Posts Tagged ‘supermarkets’

Gluten-free cookies

Friday, August 3rd, 2018 | Photos

You can go all the way to Laitila, but Tesco are still following you around.

Tesco removing “best before” dates

Thursday, May 24th, 2018 | Food

This week, Tesco announced that it was removing “best before” dates from around 70 products including apples, potatoes, tomatoes, lemons and onions.

In 2012, I wrote about how banning “best before” dates could contribute to reducing food waste. Has Tesco taken this step because of the relentless pressure of six years of being sharing my blog post? No. But I’m pleased about their decision nonetheless.

Why Ocado (and Amazon Fresh) are doomed

Thursday, May 25th, 2017 | Thoughts

Remember when supermarkets started doing online deliveries? And it turned out that they just had people going around their own stores picking out items to send to people?

Oh, how we laughed. “What a silly way to do it” we jeered. “Why don’t they have one central warehouse where they can do everything efficiently?”

I don’t think supermarkets did it this way because they thought it was the best way. I think they did it because of path dependency: they already all of these stores and it was the easiest way to do it. However, here we are a decade later, and it turns out that their approach is the best.

In fairness, I’m being overly provocative with my headline. I’m a fan of Ocado. You can read my review of Ocado here. But my guess is that if they want to build on their success in the long-term, they have some fundamental business challenges to overcome.

This is why…

Why is Amazon looking for retail space?

The story starts as many do, with some fascinating insight from Scott Galloway. He said that Amazon would eventually buy a large department store.

Why? Because such a company would have stores in every major city. This is important because it allows Amazon to deliver products quicker. One of their big problems is time: I can drive to the shop and buy something instantly. And customers love instant gratification. Amazon cannot deliver that, which is why they are spending time messing around with drones.

Jeff Bezos has always wanted to find a better way to do this. In Bezos’s biography, The Everything Store, Brad Stone talks about how Bezos wanted to hire college kids to keep a stock of Amazon products in their bedrooms and cycle them round to customers the minute they ordered.

Short of that, Amazon needs a distribution facility in each area to allow them to get products to customers quickly. That is tough when you operate a huge monolithic centre. But way easier when you have loads of local stores.

What does this mean for Ocado?

Ocado has the same problem that Amazon does. They operate out of a giant warehouse down south. This means that you have to pick the orders there and drive them to every corner of the country. Doing this is expensive for Ocado and slow for consumers.

Compare that to the major supermarkets: Sainsbury’s have their warehouse located literally only a few miles from my house. And everybody’s house. And running this warehouse costs them practically nothing because the stores are profitable in themselves.

Therefore, even when you add the cost of an inefficient system in which employees go around the shop picking out items like an in-store customer would, it still produces a business model that works and works well.

What can they do about?

Ocado needs to find other ways to compete. Amazon was successful in competing against existing high street stores. It did this in two ways. 1) it offered cheaper prices and 2) it offered a way bigger selection. Their tagline is, after all, “Earth’s biggest selection”.

Ocado doesn’t do this. Their prices are more expensive. Their selection is good, but not amazing. Take fish, for example. The selection at most supermarkets is rubbish: cod, salmon, seabass, maybe some tuna or another white fish if you are lucky. Morrison’s is a bit better. Ocado better still: their selection is maybe twice as big.

But, as Peter Thiel points out in Zero to One, if you want to do the same thing as everyone else, you can’t be 2x better: you need to be 10x better. Leeds Fish Market is 10x better. I can get maybe 100 different specifies of fish and seafood there. So I go. Just like Amazon offered way more books than my bookstore.


Traditional supermarkets have a huge advantage over online ones because they have a far better distribution network. This is important because that is all a supermarket essentially is: they buy other people’s food and distribute it to people before it goes off. If the online world wants to compete, it needs to offer an experience that is so much better you cannot possibly not switch. Ocado and Amazon Fresh do not yet do that, in my opinion.

We tried Ocado and this is what happened

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 | Life

Ocado always seemed like a mythical super-supermarket. A land of plenty that stocked everything you could imagine and more besides. So, we gave it a go. Here is what we thought.

We usually order from Sainsbury’s. They are not without their problems. I’ve also tried Morrison’s online delivery, so those are my basis for comparison.


Their website is a mixed bag. It’s crowded: the interface is crammed with buttons and promotions. However, the ordering functionality itself is fine. I like the quick view pop-up and being able to hover over a product to zoom in. They often have a lot of product photos, too.

While they have an extensive range, a lot of stuff is sold out. I like the fact that they are honest about this. I’m not sure what Sainsbury’s do, but based on past experience (one time loose tomatoes disappeared, for example) I think they silently remove stuff. Still, being so close to red delicious apples and missing out was frustrating.

Your delivery slot is only reserved for one hour. This is fine if you sit down knowing what you want. However, it was a bit of a rush when you are recipe planning at the same time. I had to place the order and go back and edit it later.

My biggest gripe with the ordering process is that I could only edit it until 5:40 pm the day before. Morrisons also have a cut off of 5 pm, whereas Sainsbury’s is 11 pm. This is probably the biggest reason we are still with Sainsbury’s.

It might not seem like a big deal, but it is to me. I work late, so 5:40 pm means I have to finish the order on Thursday evening, which is a whole day lost. I am regularly on the Sainsbury’s website at 10:45 pm on a Friday night, tweaking my order to accommodate new recipes I want to try or taking food out because I’ve been invited out to dinner one night.

Yeah, that is how I spend my Friday nights. Fuck you and your rock and roll lifestyle.

Product range

This is where I was expecting Ocado to excel. But, honestly, I was a little disappointed.

Sure, they had veal, and goat, and cloudberry jam. That is awesome. But we had been keeping a list of all the things we couldn’t get at Sainsbury’s and when it came down to it, that list was not that long.

On the flip side, they have stuff missing, too. No longley farm yoghurts, no smarties, no strawberry old moot cider. They have a better range of speciality mushrooms, but only to the extent that I could get them in larger quantities. No chanterelles.

They do have all of the Schwartz spices that Sainsbury’s have decided not to stock anymore. However, they do not have all of the own-brand stuff that drives down the cost of your shop. They have Waitrose Essentials, but it’s Waitrose, so it often the same price to get the branded stuff.

Fresh produce is a problem, too. They’re not a supermarket; they’re a warehouse. So you can’t buy a red pepper or a single apple. You have to buy a bag of them. This is probably okay if you are a cook who just opens the fridge and decides to make something based on what is in there. But I’m not there yet. I have plans. And those plans get expensive when you have to buy a bag of carrots just to get one.


We usually get our shopping delivered in the 10 am – 11 am slot on Saturday morning. This has never been a problem. However, Ocado had no availability between 8 am and 11 am, so we had to push it back to the 11 am – noon slot.

Taking a look now, if I book a week in advance, I can get almost any time I choose for next Saturday. They have a system where you can reserve a time slot on a weekly basis, so if we went with them full time, I should be able to sort this.

The delivery was on time.

They have the best receipt I have seen. Everything comes in order of date, so you can easily tell when things are use by. This is great: I can easily compare if anything is going out of date before my meal plan schedules them in. With Sainsbury’s, you have to do this manually.

The bags are colour coded for freezer, fridge and cupboard. Morisson’s do this, too.

There is a substitution on my order. Not a great start for somewhere to claims to have very few of them. Worse, although they email me to tell me about it in advance, the guy never asks me if I want to return the substitution. I did want to return it. But, as they’re not separated into separate bags, I never got the chance to say anything.

Product quality

One of our big issues with Sainsbury’s is the expiry date of bagels. When we buy them from the Co-op, they last four weeks. When we buy them from Sainsbury’s, they expire in about five days. We were hoping Ocado would product Co-op results, but they do expire in five days.


It was an expensive shop. We sent £120. We got £20 off this off for being a new customer, but that is still a lot of cash.

It’s true that some of that cost was because we saw we could finally get veal loin and rack of lamb, and did so. However, I have put my regular order into mySupermarket for price comparison several times and Ocado regularly comes out more expensive. See this comparission from 2015.

There are a number of reasons for this. Having to buy branded products rather than own-brand. Having to buy multipack vegetables rather than individual ones. But Ocado is also just more expensive. Take Pampers nappies, for example. Our current pack is £7 from Sainsbury’s, but £8 from Ocado.

£10 extra per week is a pretty big deal: that’s £500 extra per year.

There is also the cost of delivery. I am not sure what the cost of individual deliveries are but the Smart Pass (free deliveries) costs £110 per year. It’s £60 for one at both Sainsbury’s and Morrison’s.


Ocado has a lot going for them. However, I don’t think we will be switching anytime soon. The biggest issues, for me, are that I cannot edit my order after 5:40 pm and the cost (which I think is a result of the lack of individual fresh produce, higher prices and smaller range of won-brand items).

Why I’m annoyed at Sainsbury’s

Friday, May 19th, 2017 | Life

This is a rant. We get Sainsbury’s to do our weekly delivery. On the whole, it’s good. However, it is not without its problems. Namely:

  • They miss stuff out
  • They send incorrect items
  • They fall out with suppliers
  • Their bagels are short-dated

Incorrect items have not been a big problem recently. But, in September last year, they sent the incorrect item three weeks in a row. The exact same mistake. So I’m not going to be removing that item from the list for a while.

Missing items is a problem, too. Maybe every two months or so we will notice they have missed something out. I’m not religious about checking it. Last time, they forgot to include our bread. They always refund me for the missing items when I complain, though.

Several times, things have disappeared from my order, including the confirmation. However, I can’t prove this and Sainsbury’s deny it happens.

Recently though, they seem to have fallen out with suppliers, too. Things disappear from their store as they change their ranges: McCain wedges and HP barbeque sauce being two examples. But all the Schwartz spices have been disappearing as well.

I emailed them about this in February. They emailed me back to say that they had not fallen out with Schwartz. Then refused to answer any of the emails I sent in February, March and April. When I phoned them about it, they said they were dropping Schwarts. Which means they lied to me in their original email.

This was the same email I complained about their bagels. When you buy them from Co-op, they come with a month’s shelf life on them. When we buy them from Sainsbury’s, they come with five days shelf life on them. They’re still investigating this.

EDIT: Since writing this they have contacted me to say that they cannot explain how Co-op have such long shelf lives because they have spoken to New York Bagel Co who have told them they only release bagels with a shelf life of 5 days. We’ve also ordered the same Bagels from Ocado who only had 4 days shelf life on them.

Online supermarkets compared

Thursday, February 19th, 2015 | Food, Reviews

I have been thinking about whether we’re using the right online supermarket. That in itself is a pretty depressing action. However, I’m doing it having spent last week in London and Birmingham, and tonight in Sheffield, so it’s not like I just sit at home thinking about these things.

I am using Sainsbury’s at the moment. I tried Morrisons last month, and it was very good, but I much prefer the ordering processing with Sainsbury’s and I can amend by orders until 11pm. This is key, because I usually do, whereas Morrisons cut off is 5pm.

I also thought about switching to Waitrose because they have such a good reputation for customer service. However, it is significantly more expensive and their minimum order is like £60-65. Plus their website keeps crashing my computer. They do sell Swiss chard though.

Today I’ve been looking at Ocado. They have won loads of awards of their experience, and do sell chard. However, they are super expensive. They consistently come in the top two most expensive in Which?’s rankings, alongside Waitrose.

I also took a look at mySupermarket which is a really cool service. You add everything you want to your basket and it tells you how much it would cost at each supermarket. Here is the example basket I made for myself:


I started with the Sainsbury’s product set, so I don’t know if this biased it in any way. However, Sainsbury’s does come out really well for price, and with the good service I have always enjoyed, it does not seem to make it worth switching.


Monday, August 6th, 2012 | Photos


How can they possibly manufacture, ship and sell a doormat, at a profit, for 99p?

Best before dates

Monday, July 23rd, 2012 | Religion & Politics, Thoughts

In recent years, there has been a lot made of food waste, and some of this has been attributed to supermarkets putting very conservative “best before” dates on products that result in people throwing perfectly editable food away.

This might be down to a combination of supermarkets protecting themselves from lawsuits if anyone gets food poisoning, and encouraging people to throw food away early so they will buy more. But I don’t know, maybe they have some other reason. Maybe they genuinely believe their best before dates are appropriate. In any case, it’s not important to this post.

As a solution, why don’t we just ban supermarkets putting best before dates on things?

Surely that would solve the problem, forcing people to use their own common sense. You could argue that relying on common sense is an issue, but any common sense people are lacking is almost certainly down to the nanny state situation of having too many best before dates to rely on in the first place. But even if you consider that a problem, which I don’t think it is, it’s pretty easy to work out when bread is past its best.

I often find that, on some occasions, the law works very well as a blunt instrument. Remember when they banned smoking in pubs, and lots of people said there should be lots of complicated rules and exceptions, but instead they just banned everything, and now everyone is much happier because it worked really well? To be clear, I’m not being sarcastic there, that is actually what happened. Clamping is another good example.

Just tell producers they’re not allowed, people use their common sense and food stops getting wasted. Problem solved.


Thursday, November 10th, 2011 | Life

Despite little success last time I complainted to Sainsbury’s, I decided it was worth one more go when I had another complaint.

To whom it may concern:

Earlier today, I visited your branch located on The Headrow in Leeds.

Upon arriving at the tills and scanning my items I was asked to produce identification to complete my purchase. I have recently turned 25 and therefore was expecting not to be flagged by your Check 25 policy, given I have now been able to legally purchase alcohol for 8 years and nice as it is to think, there is no way I look 9 years younger than I actually am.

More to the point, however, is the fact that I was attempting to purchase non-alcoholic wine. It therefore baffles and frustrates me that I would have to produce identification to prove I am over the age of 18, for a product which is alcohol free.

I asked the assistant who approved the item for me why such a product would be classified as restricted, but she said she didn’t know.

I believe such a restriction should be removed from such items, to avoid further aggregation for your customers.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,
Chris Worfolk

Luckily, this one was slightly more fruitful. Well, I say that, this time they said that it was indeed a problem and generally a bit silly, but there wasn’t exactly a promise to do much about it.

I contacted the store and spoke with Lisa, the Customer Service Manager, who advised the checkout automatically prompts colleagues to ask for identification when items are scanned. Lisa apologises if this has inconvenienced you and advised she will have your feedback logged for future reference.

We appreciate you taking the time to make us aware of this issue and look forward to seeing you in store again soon.

Still, better than nothing. And way better than Co-op who don’t even respond to your complaints.

Sainsbury’s, guardians of all that is good

Saturday, May 14th, 2011 | Thoughts

A few weeks ago I went into Sainsbury’s, accompanied by my girlfriend Elina, who was there to keep me company as I did some personal shopping. We were throwing a soirée that evening, so included in my long list of food was a bottle of champagne.

I got to the checkout and scanned everything through on the self service checkout. I had to call an attendant over because, as usual, the system went a bit crazy and my bags needed “verifying.” While he was over there I asked him to approve my alcohol purchase.

I’m 24 so on the boarder line of whether you really need to ID me even on a Check 25 policy, but he decided to, to which I quickly produced my driving license clearly showing I was no less than six years past the date in which I was legally allowed to buy alcohol.

That would have all been fine, but Elina, who was hovering behind me, not actually helping me in any way with my personal shopping, was then asked to produce ID. She didn’t have any. As such, I was declined the sale of the alcohol.

Now, I don’t mind carrying round ID, even though for me to be under age you would have to believe that I looked seven years younger than I actually am. While that’s quite a nice complement, there is no way any rational human being would look at me when playing guess the age, and think “that man is probably about 17.” Not least of all because people who are under 18 and are trying to get hold of some alcohol to go drink in a park somewhere don’t buy champagne. But I’ll overlook this, let’s pretend it’s a sensible policy.

When it really does get mental, is when everyone who is with me has to carry ID as well. As it happens, Elina is 23, but what if she wasn’t? What if she was 17? Does that mean that I shouldn’t be allowed to by alcohol with my personal shopping?

I put this to Sainsbury’s customer service team. They gave me a prompt but fairly nondescript reply, going through their policy in vague detail stating that…

If a group of customers go through the checkouts together, all may be asked to provide identification. If any member of the group is unable to provide ID when requested, we will be unable to complete the sale.

…and ending with…

Sometimes it can come across as over-zealous but it’s really important that colleagues don’t risk age-restricted products being used by anyone underage.

This argument, simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny however. Requiring everyone who goes through the checkout, even if it is just one person actually buying anything, to produce ID in no way limits the sale of alcohol to people underage because as only the person buying something is actually required, everyone else can just wait outside.

I could easily come along with some underage, make them wait outside, go in and buy nothing by alcohol for them, come outside and give it to them and Sainsbury’s would have effectively just sold alcohol to someone who is underage, according to their thinking.

Yet, when I come through making a purchase for myself, clearly as part of my weekly food shop, clearly not for underage drinkers to get drunk because it wasn’t White Lightning or Sainsbury’s Basics Table Wine, I am unable to complete my purchase because, for perfectly understandable reasons, Elina wasn’t carrying an ID (or money, or anything), because she wasn’t buying anything, she was just keeping me company.

In such situations I could of course just ask her to wait outside while I go in and do my shopping. This is probably a valid option if you don’t consider the idea of her coming to keep me company and then spending most of the time waiting outside the store, beyond ridiculous.

But of course this isn’t always an option – take for example a mother who is doing her weekly shop and wants to buy some alcohol. Her kids genuinely are under 18 and she can’t just leave them outside on the street while she completes her shop. To me, this seems like discrimination as their policy is clearly victimising a specific group here.

I asked them what their policy was for such situations in my original email, to which they ignored it, so I pressed them for an answer in my response. This is what they said…

We have to leave the judgement to ask for ID up to our colleagues, as it is them who can be prosecuted and fined for selling alcohol to underage customers. It’s important to note it’s also an offense to sell alcohol in the knowledge it will be passed on to someone underage, which is why we look for ID from the whole party.

If you were shopping with your daughter we would hope that our colleagues would use their judgement, but if they were unsure they would err on the side of caution and ask for ID.

So their policy seems to be that they don’t have a policy, but train their staff to ID people as often as possible, even at the risk at denying perfectly legitimate purchases or discriminating against people with children.

Fair enough (well, not really), that is their policy, but I disagree with it because I think it because I don’t believe that it actually prevents the sale of alcohol to people who intend to give it to underage people but I do believe it unfairly targets legitimate customers and even implies criminal behaviour when they suggest I could be buying alcohol for someone who is underage.

So I asked for the contact details of who I could write to, to express my concerns about the policy. My request was declined.

I’d like to be able to provide you with the contact details you’ve requested, unfortunately, this isn’t possible. The Think 25 policy wasn’t a policy created by one person or a group of people, it’s an initiative that Sainsbury’s as a whole has created and it’s something we all stand by.

As mentioned, this policy is supported by the British government and as such, we feel confident using this system.

So far, I’m not impressed. Supermarkets have a reasonable duty of care, and this seems way past the line of reasonability to me.