Supermarkets: a matter of convenience

breaking up with the supermarket


Since supermarkets first appeared in the 50s, they promised to save us time and money, an alluring prospect for busy parents… But is it really cheaper and easier to shop at the supermarket?

Today’s post looks at the convenience-factor of supermarkets and hopefully provides you with some ideas on how to overcome the perceived  inconvenience of spending your grocery dollars locally and more ethically. If you’re a non-supermarket shopper and have more tips to share, please do. I’d also love to hear your experiences, good and bad, of shopping beyond the trolley.

Gone Shopping

Since I first wrote about breaking up with the supermarkets, I’ve spoken to a lot of people who want to do the same, but…

“… it’s so easy getting everything in one place…”

It’s only now that I no longer do “the big shop” that I realise how much it sucked. Sure, everything was in the one place, but to get to that place I had to fight my way through a carpark, walk through a pretty God-awful shopping centre, get past Donut King (my weakness, don’t tell anyone!) and then push a trolley around for at least half an hour. Today, aside from wandering around a market, I rarely shop for more than 10 minutes (chatting not included) and I have managed to avoid choking underground carparks all together.

My second thought on the convenience furphy is that few people ever leave the supermarket with everything they need. Even those who are slaves to a list. There is always something you can’t get. Or maybe the other supermarket has a brand you prefer. But there is always something – am I right?

Perhaps we forget something on purpose – we are gatherers, after all. Supermarket shopping is more like hunting.

Another reason people say they can’t quite break up with the supermarket is because of the convenient hours. As I explain below, if you can absorb shopping into all the other things you do each week, there really is no need to waste an evening schlepping around the supermarket when you could be at home learning to play the ukelele… or something.

One more point before I get to the practical tips on overcoming the convenience-factor of supermarkets.

Whether you’re someone who does the evening shop after the kids are in bed or you’re a brave woman who tackles the Saturday morning shop with the kids, know that supermarkets are designed to take advantage of you. It could be music and lighting to lull you into a spending mood, or putting junk food at the end of every aisle. It could be a super-sized trolley or an essential item at a ridiculously low price. No matter how savvy you are, the supermarkets have ways of making you part with more money than you intended. We’ll talk about that more in another post.

For your convenience

Shopping outside the supermarket is not about being super-organised, it’s about giving yourself plenty of options and loosening your grip on routine. Here are some suggestions on how to make non-supermarket shopping more convenient.

Write a master list
Have a list on your phone, or whatever suits you, of everything you buy from the supermarket. Seek out other places you can get each item. If you wanna go all spreadsheet on me, add in the prices so you can compare when you’re out and about. You’ll soon remember where you can get what and start to shop in little bursts. For example, if I need toothpaste, I head to my health food shop. While there I can pick up tinned tomatoes, pasta, coconut oil, peanut butter, some bulk grains and so on.

Visit the Other Shops…
One good thing about supermarkets is that they provide an environment for other shops to exist. Does your local shopping centre have a butcher or greengrocer beyond the supermarket? Try them instead. This is a suggestion for those who really can’t get past the convenience of having everything in the same place.

Explore box schemes and online options
I never run out of toilet paper thanks to my subscription with Who Gives a Crap. These days, it’s not just loo roll that arrives on my doorstep: wine, fruit and veg, seafood, dairy, bread mixes are just the beginning. What could be more convenient than having your groceries delivered? Some suppliers will leave your goods in an ice-pack if you’re out, or you could arrange for a neighbour to accept the delivery.

Gather, don’t hunt
Chances are you’re out and about all week, dropping kids off, going to activities, commuting to and from work. Seize opportunities to stock up on what you need as you go. Whenever I head up the other end of town, I think about what I might need from the shops  or suppliers there. This is where the master list comes in handy.

Engage others
Can anyone else in your household get involved in the shopping and do the gathering for you? My hubby and I use a fabulous free app called Wunderlist that allows us to share the shopping list. This means he can also check in and see what we need when he’s out.

Enjoy shopping again
As a final note, I want to say something you’ve probably heard from me a thousand times… I do not regret giving up big supermarkets. There has not been one occasion when I’ve thought it would make my life easier or better if I popped into Coles or Woolworths. I enjoy shopping again. The gatherer thing definitely suits me, despite my hectic lifestyle.

Could you give up the “convenience” of the supermarket?

photo credit: Éole via photopin cc



    • (dt)em says

      Hey Bek, Harris Farm is still family owned, I believe. As for Aldi, I will write more about this soon, but in a nutshell – they have good sustainability initiatives but they are still a massive company, and foreign-owned.

  1. Liz @ I Spy Plum Pie says

    Great article!
    I don’t have a car so one big trip to the supermarket doesn’t work for me anyway – convenience or otherwise! I prefer to make a few trips – a weekly visit to the greengrocer for fruit and veggies, as needed trips to health food stores for grains, coconut oil etc and get what I can delivered (including Who Gives A Crap toilet paper!). It might seem more laborious to others but I don’t think it actually takes up more time. I generally stop off for things on my way home from work, or while out for a walk on the weekends so it fits my schedule, just in a less traditional way I guess!
    Liz @ I Spy Plum Pie recently posted..Sustainable and Functional Lunchbox Options for AdultsMy Profile

  2. Ari says

    I’m torn on this, on one hand, locally we don’t have regular markets or a fruit and veg shop and delivery is not an option for most of that, so supermarkets are easier. Plus none of mine are in a large shopping centre, they have street entrances and parking is laid back, Donut King non existent (unless I head into the next town over).
    On the other hand, I’d like to be able to shop more in small local stores and support local business.
    Problem is it just isn’t always there. We have butcher/baker/free range egg farmer/winery & beer shop, the markets have some meat and fresh food, but it’s only once a fortnight. I like the meander round town to different shops but until I start making more of my own stuff (I’m getting there…) the supermarket covers the basics.
    It’s pretty awesome though, to drive through country towns now and see how many have a new deli or co op, and how many sandwich shops are selling vegies and jam, spreads, oil, vinegar and so on from local producers. It’s always been like that but just more of them now.

    • (dt)em says

      Hi Ari, I agree, it is so exciting to see local products popping up in unlikely places. Wouldn’t it be amazing if the big supers got on board and sourced their stuff from local suppliers instead of shipping it all round the country. Sigh… we can live and dream! For your situation, start where you are, do what you can. Picking up a local jam instead of a mass-produced one is still totally awesome.

  3. Eliza says

    We have been working on breaking up with our supermarket for awhile now. The one thing we find ourselves going back for is our eco-nappies and wipes. We can get them online, but the postage costs are quite high and we have to be SUPER organised. We don’t go through a “regular” amount of nappies because we only use them when out and about. I hadn’t thought of looking in my health food store for food – I usually go there for toiletries, too. Thanks for that tip. We have found that by using our local weekly market and farmers market we only have to pop into other shops about once a fortnight. Our local green grocer has a huge selection of spices in bigger containers for cheaper prices. I find Aldi pretty frustrating as a shopping experience, but that’s another issue entirely. Thank you so much for your posts on this topic. I talk about it with people often. I had never thought of doing it this way and I think that it really challenges people of our generation to think creatively about sourcing food. I’m very grateful to you for opening up our eyes.
    Eliza recently posted..Sentimental paper gifts: DIY Memorabilia Mini bookMy Profile

    • (dt)em says

      Thanks Eliza, I’m pleased it’s helping – I worry that I bang on about it a bit too much, as I do :)


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