London has the best supermarkets I’ve ever seen. The number of supermarkets on each corner can almost rival the amount of Starbucks in NYC. You’ll find that London is dominated by 3 major supermarkets- Waitrose, Sainsbury, and Tesco. Of course, you’ll find other supermarkets, but these dominate the market.

Overall, I found grocery shopping in London to be cheaper than in the United States. Especially after when I came home and felt the effects of inflation hit the shelves, I realized that I had spent significantly less in London than in NYC. For example, I bought a box of mushrooms every week for around 70 pence whereas here, I’d have to fork over $2. Here, Brie is around $5 for the same amount that I could get for the equivalent of $1.69 in London. Not much in difference, but it all adds up. If you look at my list at the end of the post, you’ll see that mostly everything is under 1 pound!

Moderately Priced Shopping

amy at waitrose

  • Waitrose is considered the most “refined” supermarket in London. Its stark white walls and simple decor give it a classy feel. Though it’s pricier than its counterparts, you’ll find that shopping at Waitrose isn’t too bad on the wallet. Their generic brands are definitely more expensive than Tesco and Sainsbury but some things are worth the extra 10 pence, like their rich tea biscuits. I found that Waitrose had a significantly better line of dunking biscuits. Their bakery is also splendid too- you can get slices of cake for around 95 pence!

Cheap/Moderately priced shopping

amy at sainsbury

  • Sainsbury is my favorite supermarket… ever! I love them because they have such a huge generic line, from biscuits, to cheese, to shampoo, to even beer! If you buy their generic line, everything is dirt cheap. I’d get my brie there for only .79 pence and their toilet paper (bag of 4) for only .36 pence. There are, however, 3 different types of Sainsbury’s. You have Sainsbury Local, Sainsbury Central, and Sainsbury. The Local is the smallest and the Central is catered to workers. Sainsbury (the regular) is giant and has a more “whole foods” like look. You’ll find all your generic items there whereas you may not in the Local or Central locations.
  • Tesco was my least favorite, but I ended up doing much of my shopping there because there was one right next to where I lived. Tesco is specifically catered to low income. It’s true that you’ll find many items of your shopping list cheaper there, but if you go to a regular Sainsbury, their prices beat out Tesco’s prices. However, Tesco’s produce especially fruit, tends to be cheaper than Sainsbury. They also have a huge generic line like Sainsbury, but different locations carry different items. Some locations may not carry any generic Tesco items, thus driving up the price of the product. They also have the best custard cream biscuits in my opinion (for only 49 pence!). There are also 3 different types of Tesco- Tesco Express, Tesco Metro, and Tesco. Express is catered towards the working class and Metro is located in the major parts of the city. The regular Tesco’s are a bit harder to find, but there’s one at Earl’s Court and Elephant & Castle.

GENERAL FAQ

Why are some items differently priced at different Sainsbury locations?

  • Most Sainsbury stores are actually franchised so their owners decide what gets stocked and the price of each item. It’s generally not much of a difference, but I’ve seen items with 30 pence differences. For the best deals, it’s always best to avoid the Local stores because they’re generally more expensive.

How can I find discounts since there are no coupons?

  • London supermarket stores are trying to combat the amount of wasted food that gets thrown away by supermarkets each year. This is usually caused by expiration dates. Waitrose, Sainsbury, and Tesco all offer “reduced price” items each day! They’re generally marked with a yellow label. Items that usually go on “reduced” are baked goods, meat, produce, and desserts. At the Sainsbury Central right next to Bedford Square, walk straight to the produce section and across from where they sell the potatoes-they have a clearance rack. I’ve bought bagged salad for 90 pence and lamp chops for 2 pounds. Also, if you go to Sainsbury at night (after 9pm), you’ll find that alot of their baked items will be put up for “reduced.”

Where can I buy wine and beer?

  • Because the legal drinking age is 18, it’s great for American students. Wine is generally cheaper around Europe than in the US. Waitrose has a great wine selection; there’s one area totally devoted to selling wine. However, you’ll find that their wine is more expensive than Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s. I’d have to say that I found the cheapest wines at Tesco. I’m a big fan of sparkling white wine, so I was able to find large bottles at Tesco for only 1.75 pounds
  • Beer is also sold everywhere. The supermarkets even have their own generic brands. I’ve never tried them, but I heard they’re not that great. Nobody really buys beer though; most people prefer to go to the pub and get a pint even though it’s more expensive. If you’re not a big beer fan (like me), I’d recommend getting cider like Strongbow, Magners, or Strumpety Jack.
  • Even though you’re legal to drink at 18, some places (like Tesco) do card if you look like you’re under 21. Some of my friends had problems buying alcohol because the cashiers thought their American licenses were fake.

Is the quality of generic branded products inferior?

  • This actually depends on what you’re getting. On the whole, I’d say no. If you’re shopping for food like produce, fruits, meats, biscuits, cakes, pasta sauce, etc… I’d go for the generic brands. Sainsbury actually breaks down their generic food brands into Sainsbury Simple, Sainsbury Organic, and Sainsbury Taste the difference, so you have 3 different “tiers” of generics to chose from. They’re anywhere from 20-80% cheaper than the popular brands. However, if you’re getting toiletries like hair shampoo, conditioner, or lotion, I’d stay away from the generic brands. I bought Sainsbury conditioner and lotion and it was terrible.
Why is chicken (pre-cut and packaged) so expensive?
  • The British government passed a law declaring that supermarkets can only sell British raised chickens. This eliminates many other cheaper sources, hence driving up the cost of prepackaged meats. If you’re brave enough, you can buy a whole chicken for less than 3 pounds and clean, cut, and cook it yourself.
Where should I buy…
(prices may have changed since I’ve been there and these prices only apply to generic brand items)
  • Peanut butter- Sainsbury (40 pence)
  • Whole Wheat Bread- Sainsbury or Tesco (59 pence)
  • Milk- Tesco or Sainsbury (1 pint= .49 pence, 2 pints= .79 pence)
  • White Bread- Sainsbury or Tesco (33 pence)
  • Mushrooms- Tesco (69 pence)
  • Ice cream- Tesco (around 1.50 pounds depending on the flavor)
  • Tea-time Cakes- Sainsbury (50 pence for Maidera cake)
  • Rich Tea Biscuits- Waitrose (60 pence), Tesco (49 pence)
  • Digestives- Sainsbury (29 pence)
  • Pasta- Sainsbury (linguini- 50 pence, penne- 19 pence)
  • Pasta Sauce- Sainsbury (around 36 pence)
  • Pesto Sauce- Sainsbury (get Taste the Difference for 1.70 pounds; it’s awesome)
  • Fresh Fruit- Tesco (generally has better discounts)
  • Bagged Salad- Tesco (offers 2 bags for 3 pounds discounts)
  • Salad Dressing- Sainsbury (1.10 pounds)
  • Toilet paper- Sainsbury (36 pence for pack of 4)
  • Dishwashing soap- Sainsbury (18 pence!!)
  • Garlic Bread- Sainsbury or Tesco (20 pence)
  • Ketchup- Sainsbury (25 pence)
  • Cereal- Sainsbury (get their generics)
  • Museli- Sainsbury (1.20 pounds), Waitrose (3 pounds, but really tasty I’ve heard)
  • Canned Fruit- Tesco is generally cheaper (but Sainsbury has canned peaches for 16 pence!!)
  • Tea bags- Sainsbury (80 bags for 29 pence)
  • Chocolate- Sainsbury (15-25 pence!!)
  • Crackers- Tesco (25 pence)
  • Brie Cheese- Sainsbury (79 pence, quality is much better than Tesco)
  • Camembert Cheese- Sainsbury (99 pence, quality is much better than Tesco)
  • Hummus- Tesco (89 pence; very tasty and it’s reduced fat)
  • Tortilla Wraps- Sainsbury (1.85 pounds)
  • Yogurt- Tesco and Sainsbury (under 1 pound)
  • Canned fruit- Tesco and Sainsbury (16 pence-50 pence depending on the fruit)
  • Pizza- Tesco and Sainsbury (1-2 pounds, but the cheaper ones are pretty bad tasting)
  • Chocolate Mousse- Sainsbury (29 pence for 4!)
  • Water- Sainsbury (5 liter if you can carry it for 85 pence), Tesco (2 liter for 35 pence)
  • Cookies- Tesco or Sainsbury (go to their freshly baked for packs of 4 or 5 for around 1.20 pounds)