For full functionality of this site it is necessary to enable JavaScript. Here are the instructions how to enable JavaScript in your web browser.

Food & Drink

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

If you consider yourself a cash-strapped student, yet you're feasting on Tesco's 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 – swap your luxury buys for cheaper alternatives and you'll knock a shedload off the cost of your shopping basket.

By using the supermarket downshift mentality next time you shop, you can save around a third on 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.

If you're really up for a challenge, try living off £10 for a week – find out how we did it.

What is supermarket downshifting?

person holding and comparing two apples

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
  4. No-frills value products – Economy packets with basic packaging, for example, Asda Smart Price onions 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, 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, and 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. So, 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?

stack of receipts

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: £3.19

    Manufacturer's – Nescafe Original Instant Coffee 100g: £2.65

    Supermarket's Own – Tesco Classic Coffee 100g: £1.50

    No Frills – Tesco Everyday Value Coffee Granules 100g: £0.70

    By switching from Tesco's Premium brand to their Value coffee (Stockwell and Co.), you can save £2.45, 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 200g:£2.15 (£10.75 per kg)

    Manufacturer's – Cathedral City Mild Cheddar Cheese 350g: £2.39 (£6.82 per kg)

    Supermarket's Own – Asda Mild Cheddar Cheese 750g: £3.70 (£4.93 per kg)

    No Frills – Asda Smart Price Mild White Cheddar Cheese 825g: £3.65 (£4.42 per kg)

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

    But at just £4.42 per kg, Asda's no-frills cheddar is less than 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 Super Seeds White Farmhouse 800g: £1.10

    Manufacturer's – Hovis Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: £1.10

    Supermarket's Own – Sainsbury's Soft Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: 55p

    No Frills – Daily's Medium Sliced Wholemeal Bread 800g: 36p

    Toast is every student's comfort food, and saving 74p 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: £3.50 (70p per 100ml)

    Manufacturer's – Carte D'Or Madagascan vanilla ice cream 1l: £3.50 (35p per 100ml)

    Supermarket's Own – Waitrose vanilla dairy ice cream 1l: £2.50 (25p per 100ml)

    No Frills – essential Waitrose vanilla soft scoop ice cream 1l: £1.30 (13p 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 60p per litre is amazing.

    Shop at Waitrose »

Tips for saving with the supermarket downshift

barney stinson saying challenge accepted

Credit: CBS

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 value products, 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 no-frills value will undisputedly be the cheapest option. Sometimes supermarkets will have good deals running which mess up the whole downshifting theory and, in some circumstances, you can 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?