Rory Reynolds: Has the weekly shop had its day?

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It is the typical family outing, a chance to browse the lengthy aisles of the superstores whilst piling the trolley high with goods for the week ahead.

But now the death of the big weekly shop appears ever nearer as hard-pushed households turn to “military-style” planning to keep costs down, according to retail experts.

Loading up the car once per week with a wide range of goods is in rapid decline because of difficulties with cash flow and the fear of wasting fresh produce.

Research from the consumer organisation Which? has found 76 per cent of families now avoid a single weekly shop in favour of smaller trips, with 40 per cent of these having started doing this more frequently in the past year.

Sainsbury’s and the Scottish Retail Consortium have also found families returning to the old-fashioned shopping list to purchase essentials, and using smaller local stores for fresh goods throughout the week. Meals are planned in advance to prevent wasting cash when fresh goods go out of date.

Sainsbury’s, Britain’s third largest supermarket chain, said the trend is regarded as a “fundamental change that is here to stay” and are modelling their business on the shift.

But does ditching the big shops of the past and topping up in convenience stores actually save shoppers much cash?

At the end of 2012, Justin King, Sainsbury’s CEO, published a report outlining new consumer habits, including the fact that 90 per cent of shoppers now write a shopping list and nearly 40 per cent plan meals for the whole week before setting off.

The trading giant has begun to move with the times and already reported a 17 per cent growth in its town centre Local stores in the past year, largely due to “an emergence in top-up shopping throughout the week” a spokeswoman explains.

“People are becoming far more aware of what they spend and how they spend it” says Clare Francis, consumer finance expert at MoneySupermarket.com.

“When it comes to the weekly supermarket shop, because of the way the stores are laid out, with offers at the bottom of the aisles, it’s very easy to get sucked in by the marketing. Buying two for one when you’re never going to eat the second is a prime example.

“Now people think before you buy, they make a list and stick to it – you’re less likely to come away with things you don’t need.”

Families still enjoy the weekly trip around the supermarket, says Ms Francis, but top-up shopping, particularly at independent stores, is rapidly on the rise.

“It’s probably a step too far to say it’s over – some people enjoy going round the supermarket at the weekend – but there’s a real trend of buying the essentials and then going local.

“And quite often people want to help out local traders. Despite tightening budgets families want quality – especially for their children. They also see the arrival of supermarkets and coffee shop chains and they don’t want to see their local stores fold.”

Parents being prepared to eat lower quality food to ensure their children have the best quality fruit and meat is another interesting trend, Ms Francis adds.

Families across Scotland have seen their weekly income stretched due to below-inflation wage rises, or a complete freeze. This means income remains the same while the cost of essentials like bread and milk continue to rise.

The Scottish Retail Consortium, which tracks consumer trends, said that along with tighter budgets, families with cash flow problems also now find the big weekly shop a struggle.

Richard Dodd, head of campaigns at the organisation, said: “There has been evidence that families have taken to shopping more often but buying less on each shopping trip.

“This is because they are managing budgets more closely and may have cash flow troubles, meaning they are not in a position to spend a lot in one go.

“Our Scottish Retail Sales Monitor has for some time been showing that people are focusing spending on primarily on food and on children’s clothes.

“Instead they cut back on a range of other items, particularly big-ticket items, such as furniture, carpets, larger appliances. Basically anything that doesn’t absolutely have to be replaced.”

At the start of the recession parents simply cut back on spending, but now shoppers are increasingly bargain-savvy, and turn to the internet to get the best deal.

“Because they were short of money [in December] people were regimented planning, they researched prices online, and they were much much less likely to go on unplanned browsing trips,” says Mr Dodd.

“It was a fairly military sort of operation.”

Jenny Keefe of MoneySavingExpert.com, says: “If you are making lots of little shops instead one big weekly one, be careful not to get seduced into buying more each time you go.

“Supermarkets are great at targeting our impulses, so nothing’s more powerful than a good old-fashioned shopping list. By planning what you need before heading out, it’s easier to cut out anything that 
goes over budget and stick to it. Buy only what 
you planned, with a little flexibility for 
promotions.

Dropping the big weekly shop altogether however is another big trend experts have tracked – not least because it means there’s no hungry youngsters by your side.

“If you shop online you don’t get distracted by offers, you see the total adding up, and if it’s too much you can always drop items before paying” Clare Francis, from MoneySupermarket adds.

“It also avoids taking the kids shopping – another way that costs rise rapidly – as they pile things in the trolley.”

In figures

76% of families now favour smaller trips, say Which?

90% now write a shopping list to try save cash

40% plan meals for the whole week