An international student’s guide to UK supermarkets

Back

When I first came to study here from Bangkok, I found food-shopping to be an oddly fun experience. And I still do.

Of course, there were a lot of things I was unaware of that were different to food shopping back home.

So, for any international students who will soon be navigating this exciting shopping experience, here’s my guide on what you’ll find in UK supermarkets – along with some top tips on saving money and time!

shopping

 

Terms explained:

 

1. BYOB

No, not ‘bring your own booze’ – bring your own BAG.

I joke to my friends that one of the phrases they should learn if they ever come to Thailand is: “I would not like a bag, thank you”, because even a tiny pack of gum will get its own carrier bag.

Here, you pay for each plastic bag used, so almost everybody brings their own reusable bag.

So, don’t forget – BYOB! Good for the environment and good for your savings.

 

2. Meal deals (the student fuel)

This is basically the go-to lunch for students.

What is it? It’s a sandwich, snack, and a drink, all for £3-5 (depending on where you shop).

It’s a really convenient concept, and you'll know what lunch items are included in the offer as they'll bear a price tag or sticker that says “Included in meal deal”.

I was confused at one point whether I could still purchase those items individually... The answer is yes.

 

3. Loyalty schemes

When I shopped back at home, you would apply for a loyalty card in-store with the cashier and have it all done there and then.

Here, you apply for loyalty cards online, and it’ll then be posted to you following week (these days, some schemes have apps, so you can de-clutter your wallet).

My advice? Join a loyalty scheme for a supermarket you’re actually going to go to on a regular basis, not just the one that offers the best deal.

 

4. Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, Asda…which one?

There are loads of websites that will give you the full lowdown on how affordable each supermarket chain is.

Roughly speaking though, Waitrose and Marks and Spencer are the higher end shops, Tesco and Sainsbury’s are somewhere in the middle, and Asda, Aldi and Lidl are the most budget-friendly options.

 

And finally, my top UK supermarket tips:

  • Lots of supermarkets heavily reduce the prices of items that are nearing their sell-by date and display these in the late afternoon or evening. You can spot these by the bright yellow label over the old bar-code. Ask your local supermarket when they do this in store and make sure you go along to get yourself a bargain.
  • Find out where the nearest international supermarket is – they’ll stock everything you need if you’re craving food from home. Sometimes they do deals with students who are members of the university’s cultural societies, so make sure you enquire before buying.
  • Supermarkets here often have bakeries in-store that sell hot, freshly-baked pastries in the morning that you can pick up for before your early morning lectures.
  • Online shopping is worth doing if you’re living in a house with other people (since you have to meet a minimum spend). More importantly, this is a really reliable service here in the UK which wasn’t the case for me back home.
  • Sometimes, one supermarket will offer a ‘lowest price guarantee’ for a particular item. If you’re really dedicated to getting a bargain, it’s worth hunting these offers out online and in store to make sure you’re never knowingly overspending!

 

Keep reading: An international student's guide to British slang