I was chatting with a friend the other day and the topic of supermarkets and grocery shopping came up (yep, that’s how exciting my life is…!) Anyway – it made me realise that there are very few items I now shop for at the “big” supermarkets. If you live in Australia like me, you’ll know the supermarket duopoly of Coles and Woolworths have left the grocery shopping landscape looking a little dismal lately… However, there are alternatives.
There’s many reasons you may feel called to reduce your reliance on the big supermarkets, ranging from their sourcing of products and treatment of local producers, to their pricing strategies and vested interests; whatever the reason, here’s a number of ways you can reduce your reliance on the big supermarkets.
Fruit & Veggie box deliveries.
These are great for convenience – you can generally order them online, customise as needed, and have them delivered to your door on a regular schedule. Most suppliers will have a variety of sizes to choose from depending on your needs & household size.
Fruit & Veggie co-op.
For fresh produce, generally direct from the grower – co-ops are usually an arrangement between local residents to coordinate a drop-off point for bulk produce, which is then sorted and packed into cartons for distribution to each member. A great way to get to know your local community, support your local growers and get some great fresh produce at excellent prices.
Local Farmers Markets.
Depending on where you are, this may be a great option for you. Farmers Markets usually have a range of primary producers on site, so if you’re lucky you can find local honey, meat, bread, fruit & vegetables in addition to all sorts of lovely condiments, preserves, baked goods and other specialty products. Where I live in Victoria, there is an association that certifies Farmers Markets to ensure they host only genuine primary producers – an uncertified market would be more similar to your local green grocer, where the produce is sold by an intermediary trader who sources the produce from elsewhere. Either way, you’ll still likely get more fresh, local produce, but be careful to check labels and country of origin if you are suspicious (especially if you see out-of-season produce at a market – it may well be imported).
Bulk Food Suppliers.
For non-perishable items such as grains, legumes, pasta, cereals, nuts & seeds, there are many bulk food suppliers you can purchase from. Buying in bulk either online or directly from the store means less packaging, better prices, less waste as you can buy the quantity you actually need, and you’ll usually find these suppliers stock better quality products than the equivalent supermarket products.
Bulk Food Co-ops.
Similar to the fruit & veggie co-op, these usually begin with a group of like-minded locals buying in bulk to save on money & packaging. Facebook, local community centres & noticeboards, and word of mouth are the best ways to find out about these in your neighbourhood – or look at starting one yourself!
Direct From the Producer.
There is a movement gaining momentum to source produce directly from the producer, thereby cutting out the middle man. Many farms are engaging in this to enable them to sell direct, obtain fairer prices for their produce, and connect with the people they are feeding. Every farm will do this differently depending on their production rates and seasonality, but again if you start asking around you will find – depending of course on where you live – that there are options available to you to buy direct.
Grow Your Own.
Once limited to those with big backyards, you can now grow your own vegetables in even the most restricted of spaces. Grow from seedlings or direct from seeds, once you get hooked you’ll never look back. Even a small kitchen garden of culinary herbs will save you having to race down to the local supermarket for some wilted basil for your gnocchi!
Once you’ve got a few veggies to harvest, a great idea is to find some other locals who have their own veggie patch and start arranging some swaps. That way you can even plan to plant different crops to complement each other’s harvests. Extend this to someone who has chickens, and you’ll soon be trading your tomatoes for fresh eggs.
Make Your Own.
From bread to pasta, tomato sauce to pickled onions, mayonnaise to mango jam – there’s no end to the tasty foods you can make in your own kitchen with a bit of research and practice. Fermented foods like yoghurt, sourdough, sauerkraut and kim chi are also fun and easy to make and will add some zest and good bugs to every meal.
Independent and Speciality Grocers and Butchers.
There will always be those extra things you like to buy that you can’t find elsewhere – if you’re lucky enough to live near grocery stores or supermarkets that are independently and locally owned, you will usually find they have all sorts of interesting ingredients for you to choose from. While you may find some of the prices are higher than other supermarket products, you will find the money you save in changing your buying habits will more than accomodate any extra here.
If you buy meat, independent butchers are a great alternative to farmers markets or buying direct if these options aren’t open to you. Get to know your local butcher, find out where the meat comes from, buy it fresh the day it comes in, ask about buying in bulk – there are many benefits to buying your meat direct from a butcher.
So, that’s 10 ways you can consider reducing your spend at the big supermarkets – I’m sure there’s many more! And don’t forget about simple strategies like meal planning, waste reduction and bulk cooking which can also reduce your overall food budget and make good use of the wonderful produce you find.
What are your favourite ways to avoid shopping at the “Big Two”? And if you’re outside of Australia, I’d love to hear what the grocery situation is in your home town! Feel free to comment below or come visit me on Facebook.