How to break up with the supermarket

Why I broke up with the supermarket

Holy. Guacamole. I had NO idea when I wrote about why I broke up with the supermarket that it would have the kind of response it has had.

Turns out loads of you are already supermarket-free – legends! What also excites me is how many people out there want to find new ways to spend their dollars. Ways that support community and food producers alike. What I’m hearing a lot is this: “I want to break up with the supermarket, but don’t know how.” This post is going to look at some of the finer details and help you work out how to kick that trolley to the kerb (please don’t actually do this).

Recap: why supermarkets suck

Before we get into the hows, including some great advice from Down To Earth Mother readers, let’s remind ourselves why we want to ditch the big supermarkets.

My main reasons were: the dodginess of the supermarket duopoly, the crap they sell and the tactics they use to make us overspend, and also because I wanted to support local businesses, food producers, etc. You told me  you wanted to ditch the big supermarkets because of ethical concerns, including the placement of pokie machines, trolley rage, expense and to create a sense of community.

So here’s how to break up with the supermarket

  1. Go cold turkey. There is no such thing as popping into the supermarket for one item, or even two. If you really want to quit, I suggest you set a date and stick to it. If that idea freaks you out, make it for a set period of time. “I will not go into a supermarket for a week” seems easy enough, right?
  2. Get to know your options. There are heaps of other places and ways to buy food and household supplies. Take the time to explore your local shops and markets and see what they stock. Browse a few online stores or co-op websites and know what’s available where.
  3. Write down everything in your fridge, pantry, bathroom, laundry etc and work out ahead of time where you’re going to source it from. If you will now be buying shampoo from an online retailer, for example, it will take a couple of days to arrive.
  4. Be flexible. If you have used the same brand of toothpaste since you first sprouted teeth and have the same boxed cereal every morning, you may find it difficult to break up with the supermarket. Be prepared to try other brands or even non-branded versions of things you love (eg homemade jam from a roadside fruit stand). It will do you nothing but good to consume fewer processed foods. Just saying.
  5. Be a gatherer/French mama. Always be on the lookout for bargain buys, or even just stuff you regularly need at a reasonable price. These can appear in the oddest places. Don’t just buy what’s on your list, seize the opportunity to stockpile when you can. And on the flip side, if you haven’t come across quinoa or capers for a while, use something else until you find a good source.
  6. Make shopping kid-friendly. I suspect the main reason most mums shop at the supermarket is because they can contain their children in an open-roofed cage… It certainly was for me! Let me state for the record that my children turn into eight-armed monsters of the deep the minute we enter a shop of any kind (with the exception of my organics shop, which has a kids’ play area. LOVE that.) When you have the kids with you, plan to be fast and focused. Give them a job – I will give my three-year-old a two-litre bottle of milk that he has to carry in two hands, or let him hold my keys and wallet. Dangerous, I know. The great thing about smaller shops or markets is that people will help you out by chatting to the kids or slipping them a piece of apple. And they do learn. My kids are definitely better trained now they’re out of the trolley.
  7. Allow yourself to evolve. In your first week without the supermarket, you are unlikely to get it right. maybe you’ll spend too much, find yourself going to the local store every five minutes or have to make a few completely random meals. Shrug it off and do better next time.

Advice from someone who isn’t me

Before I let you go suck on those ideas, I wanted to share this fantastic comment from a regular reader, Abbie, which she contributed to my initial post about breaking up with the supermarkets.

“I did this “goodbye to supermarkets” a while ago. I find that I probably make the same number of trips now to all the different places as I did before to the supermarkets, but it’s less stressful, more personable, more friendly, and more enjoyable. The shop owners/assistants I see know my name, greet my kids, are helpful, chatty, pleasant, and there is no stress or overstimulation for the kids that you get in a supermarket.

To manage the different shopping options, I worked out who sold what I bought (as with all shops, some are cheaper on this, others are cheaper on that, some stock this, some stock that) and so who was best for what… I do buy some bits and pieces online (Going Green Solutions allow me to buy bulk boxes of recycled paper tissues – not perfect but guests don’t usually bring their own hankies and tend to baulk when you offer them one ;) ) and I’m about to order from Who Gives a Crap to avoid the supermarkets on that one too.

Once you know who sells what, and where they are, it takes a bit of thinking to start with, but after a while, it’s no more trips than you took to the supermarket, and without all the extra “specials” you do spend less, despite paying more for your goods.”

Thanks Abbie! Hopefully between us we have given you some ideas to help you break up with the supermarket. If you want to quit but can’t, please tell me why. A problem shared is a problem halved and I’m sure one of my readers will have the solution you’re looking for.

So what do you think? Is it time you broke up with the supermarket?

To help you break up with the supermarkets, Who Gives a Crap – the word’s most earth-friendly, fun loving and giving toilet paper – is offering DTEM readers 20% off the first month of  subscription. Enter “DownToEarth” at checkout. Offer ends September 21, 2013. Find out more about Who Gives a Crap here.



  1. Bek @ Just For Daisy says

    The more these appear in my newsfeed the closer I get to ‘breaking up completely’… I know it’s wrong to keep going back to a bad relationship… but…!!
    You’ll be proud though because I’ve started to shop fortnightly with my neighbour. We drive into the local IGA together every second Monday. I then get my fruit and veg from the local fruit shop and my meat (which we freeze in bulk) from the local butcher! So I’m hoping not to step in one of the big chains for quite some time with this new routine! And our local IGA does some wonderful things for the local community!
    I have a question for you though… what is the most environmentally friendly way to freeze meats?? We’re going to try and wash/reuse our zip lock bags this time… but it’s a lot of plastic? Is there some magic way to be using less plastic!!!
    Bek @ Just For Daisy recently posted..Handmade: Fabric Hanging Hand TowelsMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      I am proud! That’s a fantastic example of how to shop in a more sustainable, less wasteful and less stressful way – hooray for you, Bek!
      As for your question, I was just pondering this last night as we vac-packed our bulk meat order into smaller portions. We have a second-hand vac-pack machine, but have to buy the plastic sheets online, which are of dubious origin and quality. I am going to have to get back to you on this, I will do some research and put a post up asap.

  2. Abbie says

    Hmmm, meat in plastic, something I’ve been slack over personally.

    My plan is to eventually have enough tupperware (or whatever your plastic container of choice is) containers to be able to take them to the butchers and have them put the meat straight in for me, so I can take it home and pop straight into the freezer. Soft plastics (zip locks, freezer bags) can be recycled through the soft plastics recycling at Coles and some primary schools, but nothing foil lined. Depends on your priority – whether you’re wanting to avoid plastic containers or plastic bags etc – or you could just go meat free I guess if you were that passionate about a solution?

    Also, worth chatting to your butcher to see if they are cool with you byo-ing your container, some may not be (in which case, maybe ask around for one that does and frequent them, or use them as an example to your regular butcher???)

    I know for us, until I have enough containers to be able to cope with the bulk meat purchasing we do (and I may never have enough – maybe I need to buy dedicated containers so that they don’t end up in the everyday mix that disappears into the black hole of my partners car so that I always have meat containers….) then it may be some way off, or maybe that’s an excuse not to do something about it? Hmmm. Thanks for reminding me there is another issue I need to tackle and bringing it to the forefront – I need to work this one out too!! I take freggie sacks/home made versions for fruit and veg, but have been slack on the meat front. Will let you know how I go!!

    • (dt)em says

      We froze some of our mince in plastic containers, I’m a bit nervous about freezer-burn though. It would really suck to waste all our good-quality meat. I’m also concerned about the plastic leaching into the food. We have a few pyrex glass containers that can be frozen so they get first preference.

  3. Lisa-Marie says

    I have been supermarket chain free for a few years now. One thing I LOVE is that I can ring my local vege supplier while I am at work, (or email him) with a list of what I want… 1 kg banana, 1kg pears, 5 kg potato,ect. and he will have it packed and boxed for me, I pick up the kids from school, swing past and grab the vege and then we head home. So easy. And since we have built such a good relationship, and standing order, I find that we often have little ‘freebies’ that he has thrown in for us, or some seconds that we can eat that day. Because he source local produce, it lasts and tastes so much better too. I was spending $200 a week at woollies, and now I am spending about the same, but proportions are different with $80 a week on vege, instead of the junk we were eating, $30 on meat (we have 3 vegan meals a week) $40 at local health food shop and $50 at local IGA. Local Health store and vege pack my order, and I just swing past and pick it up.

    • (dt)em says

      You’ve just described the perfect shopping experience – there’s a relationship with your supplier, convenience, quality and real foods. I love it, and I’m a little envious :)

  4. Lynne says

    Aldi is good if you have one nearby as the choice is pretty limited so you can’t go too crazy.

    Farmer’s Markets – fresh and cheap. Often have GREAT bread, jam, cheese and other goodies.
    Also lots of companies deliver boxes of fruit n veg now.

    I have gradually stopped buying cleaners, conditioner and cosmetics. I use vinegar, sunlight soap, bicarb, coconut oil for cleaning, hair, face and toothpaste (Bicarb and coconut oil)and cooking.

    Keep a couple of chooks – they don’t take much space.
    and don’t need fancy cages I once had 2 ‘closet hens’ who lived in an old wardrobe in a safely enclosed back yard.

    If you HAVE to go to one of The Nasties, take a small amount of cash and no cards.

    The other objection I have is the old brands are disappearing and Store brands are taking over. They are so greedy.

    • (dt)em says

      Lynne, your tip about carrying cash and no cards is genius. One of my barriers to breaking up with the supermarkets was never having cash on me. Supermarkets let you pay a tiny amount on a card and independents often have an eftpos minumum. So I naively thought it would be cheaper to just buy milk at the stoopidmarket. But them of course I saw that my brand of chocolate/loo paper/washing detergent was on special and… well you can guess the rest!

  5. Anthony says

    I have been weaning myself off the major supermarkets and packaged food for a little while with good, but not complete, success. I find using my cornerstones of local greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger and deli I can source 80%+ of my needs. Your article has inspired me to go ‘all the way’. But I am interested that you also include local IGA and Aldi as alternatives. I do quite like IGA, but I find pretty much the same offerings are available there as the majors, although there are always higher quality items as well to choose. But you know, if you are tempted by crap stuff you can still get it there, plus the trolleys, plus the check out aisle etc, although I accept the overall experience is better than the majors. I’d love to be divorced from all “Marts”, and will try and take an extra step from now on.

    • (dt)em says

      Sourcing 80% of your food from non-giants is a huge achievement, you should be proud. I too ultimately want to break up with the supermarkets all together, I’m in the process of finding ways to source everything I need from alternatives. Shopping at Aldi is definitely a poor option and I tr to be strict about what I buy there, but I am too easily sucked in – and you’re right, those trolleys just make you want to buy loads of crap! I’m with you, let’s ditch the Marts!

    • (dt)em says

      yay for you, Jan. I will share your blog post on my Facebook page and would love to know how you go. Setting yourself an achievable target: one month, is definitely the way to go.

  6. Jan says

    That would be great thanks Jo, I’ll be keeping track on my facebook page if anyone wants to keep up or join me. I must say, I just came home from the local go vita…not the cheapest place to shop!! lol I think Aldi and my local IGA, green grocers, butchers are going to get the most of my $$$’s. I’m proud to say I now bake my own bread and just put in an order to who gives a crap!! (how cool is that name by the way)
    Cheers Jan
    Jan recently posted..Supermarket Break Up Challenge for OctoberMy Profile

  7. Audrey says

    Love the idea of breaking up with the market! We do our best to grow as much of our produce as possible and put up plenty for the winter, raise our own hens for eggs and some for meat. We have also raised beef cows and turkeys- soo much better in soo many ways. As for the frozen meat storage- our butcher double wraps the meat in white freezer paper and labels it. No freezer burn, nice and neat to store. I really try to avoid plastic as much as possible, this seems like a good solution to me, maybe it will work for some of you too?

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Audrey – I am definitely going to ask my butcher to try wrapping some meat for us. Plastic has only been widely used since the 60s, it’s mad that we can’t think of life without it!!

  8. Ashilleong says

    We’re in a fairly isolated area – seven hours inland from the earest capital city – which makes things difficult. Fresh produce is especially tricky as a) it’s the desert. Growing stuff ai’t easy and b) no local produce. I’ve recently joined a co-op who is trying to get produce boxes shipped up, but we’re struggling to get enough people involved to make it worthwhile when shipping costs are so high. If we can make this work then we’ll be better off.

    The shopping centres here are generally more expensive (as is everything due to freight) so we buy a fair bit online which gets tricky as we’re no longer supporting our local economy.

  9. Melissa Dixon says

    I am loving what i’ve read of your blog posts so far. I am partway through breaking up with my supermarkets. I’ve made the choice to no longer support big corporations that drive small community based businesses out of the market and who constantly make it their aim for their consumers to overspend and continue to drive the household debt higher and higher for their own gains. I love my butcher that I travel 40mins to every fortnight and the fresh food markets in Brisbane that are 45mins away and are just an absolute pleasure to stroll around and take my kids to without them being brainwashed into a consumer driven frenzy.

    • (dt)em says

      I’m so pleased you’re enjoying your (almost) supermarket-free experience! It really is worthwhile. And thanks for your kind words about the blog :)

  10. Jennifer Richards says

    It is amazing all the options you find when you rule out supermarkets, isn’t it?
    Farmers Markets, Farmer direct, online, small business – all of these choices are healthier, fresher and more sustainable than supermarkets…less convenient though…and there lies the rub!
    Jennifer Richards recently posted..This is itMy Profile

  11. Kathy says

    I shop at both ends. sometimes I buy at supermarket because i see if they have a super duper special on something i know i NEED and buy and it ends up being cheaper than at say organic store i get it there. (sorry love you organic store but sometimes a girls got to do what a girls got to do to make her dollar stretch!)
    My key is keep the list of things you buy as simple and basic, things you can’t make from mixing other things. My list is like always keep in stock milk, not yogurt i can make that from the milk, eggs my husband wont let me have chooks he hates them with a passion. he said chooks = divorce. he told me that before i said yes to marrying him so i cant get angry i agreed to that condition. so anyhow i buy eggs.
    i get rice, i get flour. you get the idea Somethings which i could make I buy like butter, sometimes bread, this has been a time factor of making things now that i work part time. Soooooo i guess i got to rewrite my ‘key’ buy as much ‘raw’ ingredients as possible as your time and skills allow you. and try where you can to improve skills and time management so you have more and can buy more ‘raw’ basic ingredients BECAUSE then i buy so much more in BULK and lots of it i can get from the coop at wholesale prices. so for 2lt milk at 3.30 cos of bulk buy and wholesale (wholesale only about 4.00 if i buy less than 6) not 4.55 in shop exact same product brand. I get 2lt of bio dynamic yogurt for 3.30.CHEEEEEAP) bit more if i need to buy a bit of yogurt to start my culture again when mine goes a bit thin after reusing to make more so many times. you get the drift right?

    so for me this is what has made me save oodles i do get the feeling its not such new news for you cool gals and guys! but hey got to put in my bit too hehehehe

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Kathy, wow I wish I was a member of your co-op! That yoghurt is cheap! I am yet to master yoghurt making, mine is always too thin and a bit blah. Thanks for all your tips, and I reckon you should keep working on your hubby about the chooks… sounds like he’s got some issue that needs working through, lol.

  12. Mary Horwill says

    YAY….so happy to have just read this. I recently also quit the supermarkets – with a genuine love of markets.

    I have since also started a blog encouraging our communities and providing tips and tricks and yummy treat to be found at markets!!!

    Great article!!


    • karen clarke says

      Wonderful article. If we just took a bit more time to make informed choices on what to buy and where to spend our money we would have more local independant supermarkets,more Austn products and more jobs for our children. Shopping should be a memorable experience for all the family not just run and grab easy food. If we only want basic wholesome food its actually easierand cheaper to shop then have an awesome time making an amazing meal with your family, whilst talking about their days happenings.


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