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Food & Drink

Try the supermarket downshift: Save £520 a year with one small change

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If you consider yourself a cash-strapped student, yet you're feasting on Tesco Finest Parma ham and M&S brie, you're doing something wrong.

pound note emoji over supermarket

Your years spent surviving on a Student Loan budget is the prime time to discover the art of supermarket downshifting. If you swap your luxury buys for cheaper alternatives, you'll knock a shedload off the cost of your shopping basket.

By using the supermarket downshift mentality the next time you shop, you can save around a third of your weekly food spending. So if you normally spend £30 a week on food, you can cut that down to roughly £20. That's a saving of £520 a year!

Read on to discover how to do the downshift yourself, from a small jump to a huge saving.

We tried to live off £10 for a week – find out how we did it.

What is supermarket downshifting?

The supermarket downshift method is based on the premise that supermarkets stock four different price levels of their staple products, with the most significant difference between the products not being the quality, but the price tag.

The four levels are:

  1. Premium brand – Luxury & organic brands such as Tesco Finest or Sainsbury's Taste the Difference.
  2. Manufacturer's brand – The brands we know and love – Heinz, Birds Eye, Walkers...
  3. Supermarket own-brand – Supermarkets' own versions of our favourite brands, such as Tesco cornflakes. Compare prices in our guide to the best own-brand alternatives.
  4. No-frills value products – Economy packets with basic packaging, for example, Asda Just Essentials apples or Sainsbury's Basics bread.

supermarket brand tiers

* Tesco and Sainsbury's have shifted a lot of their no-frills to some more farm-y sounding brand names, like Stockwell & Co. and Eastman's Deli at Tesco, and Hubbard's Foodstore and Just Snax at Sainsbury's.

More often than not, the only noticeable difference between these brands is the packaging. On top of that, supermarkets will trick you into reaching for the more expensive packet by placing these products at eye level (and that's not the only trick they use, either).

It's also worth noting that the top two tiers may switch around – sometimes the branded product is even more expensive than the luxury brand. But either way, the principle remains: you should try to move down at least one pricing tier as part of the downshift.

Do you need to downshift everything?

Trading down to a shopping basket full of no-frills alternatives can be a massive ask for some people. If you can't bear the thought of parting with your Heinz ketchup, that's ok!

As long as you try downgrading on some items that are less important to you, such as washing up liquid, cooking oil, sugar and chopped tomatoes, you'll still make a substantial saving.

These are all basic student staples where the supposed drop in quality won't make a difference to your life in the slightest, but the drop in price will.

How much can you save with the supermarket downshift?

Just in case you don't believe us, we've decided to illustrate the point by comparing some standard student essentials within the same supermarket:

  1. Coffee savings at Tesco

    tesco instant coffee

    Premium – Tesco Finest Colombian Instant Coffee 100g: £3.35

    Manufacturer's – Nescafe Original Instant Coffee 100g: £3.00

    Supermarket's Own – Tesco Classic Instant Coffee 100g: £1.12

    No Frills – Stockwell & Co Instant Coffee 100g: £0.92.

    By switching from Tesco's Premium brand to their Value coffee (Stockwell and Co.), you can save £2.43, meaning you can afford to juice yourself up for a last-minute rush to the essay deadline.

    You'll need all the help you can get if you're trying to write a 3,000 word essay in a day.

    Shop at Tesco »


  2. Cheaper cheese at Asda

    asda smart price mild white cheddar

    Premium – Asda Extra Special Wyke Farms Extra Mature Cheddar 300g: £3.50 (£11.67 per kg)

    Manufacturer's – Pilgrims Choice Mature Cheddar Cheese 350g: £2.67 (£7.63 per kg)

    Supermarket's Own – Asda Mild Cheddar Cheese 750g: £5.50 (£7.33 per kg)

    No Frills – Asda Just Essentials Mild White Cheddar Cheese 400g: £2.95 (£6.72 per kg).

    Cheese is one of those things that you don't realise is so expensive until you go to uni.

    But at £6.72 per kg, Asda's no-frills cheddar is almost half the price of their Premium brand, and still comfortably cheaper than the manufacturer's version too. Easy peasy, very cheesy.

    Shop at Asda »


  3. Bargain bread at Sainsbury's

    sainsburys own brand breadPremium – Sainsbury's Taste The Difference Sunflower & Pumpkin seed bread 800g: £1.50

    Manufacturer's – Hovis Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: £1.45

    Supermarket's Own – Sainsbury's Soft Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: 85p

    No Frills – Daily's Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: 39p.

    Toast is every student's comfort food, and saving £1.11 on every loaf you buy will save you loads in the long run.

    Shop at Sainsbury's »


  4. Stone-cold bargain ice cream at Waitrose

    waitrose own brand ice creamPremium – Waitrose 1 Madagascan vanilla ice cream 500ml: £4.40 (88p per 100ml)

    Manufacturer's – Carte D'Or Madagascan vanilla ice cream 900ml: £3.75 (41.7p per 100ml)

    Supermarket's Own – Waitrose vanilla dairy ice cream 1l: £3.00 (30p per 100ml)

    No Frills – Essential Waitrose vanilla soft scoop ice cream 2l: £2.45 (12.3p per 100ml).

    Downgrading a few levels on everyone's favourite dessert is a great way to save. Ice cream is ice cream as far as we're concerned, so you won't notice the difference. Plus, a saving of around 76p per 100ml is amazing.

    Shop at Waitrose »


Tips for saving with the supermarket downshift

So you're up for trying the supermarket downshift? Here are a few additional tips to ensure that you're working that downshift like a boss:

  1. Taste test no-frills products Some supermarkets do no-frills brands better than others, so it's a good idea to do the rounds of different supermarkets sampling your favourite staples. Keep a shopping diary and rate products out of 10 to remind yourself what tastes best, and where.
  2. Use your judgement  Whilst store cupboard staples are perfect options for downshifting to supermarket own brand, you might not want to compromise on the likes of fresh meat. Just make sure you choose which products you downshift wisely.
  3. Downshift to a budget supermarket Supermarkets like Lidl or Aldi can offer some serious savings, as they're almost entirely stocked with budget brands you've probably never heard of (but which taste just as good!). Beware that your Heinz won't be cheaper here, though, as manufacturer-branded products are generally the same price as in other supermarkets.
  4. Do the maths – Never assume that supermarket own brand value will undisputedly be the cheapest option. Sometimes supermarkets will have good deals running which mess up the whole downshifting theory. In some circumstances, you can actually find luxury products selling for the same price as no-frills.

Are you savvy to the dirty tricks that supermarkets pull to try and get you to spend more cash?

Laura Brown

WRITTEN BY Laura Brown

Laura Brown, Head of Editorial at Save the Student, is an award-winning writer with expertise in student money. She project manages influential national student surveys and has presented findings to MPs in Westminster. As an expert on student issues, Laura has been quoted by the BBC, the Guardian, Metro and more.
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