shopping-without-a-supermarket-01Whilst most of us would like to become self-sufficient and live the dream of the 1970’s sitcom the Good life for most of us it is as much a likelihood of becoming a reality as castles in the sky. Yes it would be lovely to be able to grow or make everything we need, but then not many of us are in the position to make this happen and for some people the dream is not to boycott major brands and set up a backyard dairy and greengrocers, but to reduce the financial burden of essential grocery shopping.

With more households feeling the financial pinch there is a need to find a cheaper way of doing the weekly shop. Over the years Britain has seen supermarkets grow in both size and popularity and a lot of families use them because they believe there is either no alternative or that they are the cheapest way to shop.  These two beliefs are thankfully misconceptions and the alternative is both cheaper, quicker and will meet with your bank manager’s approval.

shopping-without-a-supermarket-02Whether you like to cook or you like the delights of big brands and convenience there are two online retailers that offer an excellent range of food, drinks and general household items that regularly feature on weekly shopping lists at seductively low prices.  I was intrigued by the claims that both Approved Food and Clearance XL made about the savings they offer on groceries and so I decided to road test them by placing orders with them.

Clearance XL offers a huge range of products that extends to clothing and giftware as well lots of food and toiletries many of them from familiar big names. The website is big, bright and bold and at first it took me a while to navigate my way around the site because they offer so many different categories, it is like a big online warehouse.  You can freely browse the website and there is no joining fee to register and the whole ordering process is simple.

After a good mooch around there site the discounts certainly did seem good and with a spend of £25 plus £5.99 postage I knew immediately that I had bagged bargains that no normal supermarket could match. After all a spend of £25 doesn’t get you very far in the supermarket.

shopping-without-a-supermarket-03I ordered Sunday night and my goods arrived in perfect condition on Tuesday morning.  The order came in a big cardboard box which was rather exciting to open. Inside were a series of smaller boxes and everything was well packed with all the jars being bubble wrapped and overall carefully packaged.  As I had never ordered from Clearance XL before I ordered a good cross section of things from across their departments.  I really wanted to see what the quality of the products they offered were like.  Once I unpacked the box of groceries and goods I was impressed that everything was in excellent condition and by the volume of products in a relatively small order.

Clearance XL predominately serves customers in the UK but the owner informs me that has shipped to Europe in the past.  The company is run by a  26 years old entrepreneur  who lives in Doncaster, South Yorkshire and the business is growing on a daily basis. I can say that I was impressed by the speed and smoothness of the whole transaction with regular e-mails informing me of my orders progress.

shopping-without-a-supermarket-04I awarded full marks for the customer service; packaging and delivery. The products also got big thumbs up. In my order was a large bottle of Ribena squash which cost me 99p,  in Tesco’s the same product was £4 , mine  did have a short use-by date but I hardly think this is of relevance on a bottle cordial and it was in perfect condition.   I also had a pack of Vicks First Defence Protective Hand Foam which helps to protect you from catching a cold via your hands, a  50ml bottle of this costs around £4.09 from a chemists, but I got eight bottles for £1.50.  The Queens Diamond Jubilee Edition Shortbread Selection I purchased came in beautiful tin and was a delicious bargain with a  RRP £8.99 and a CLEARANCE XL price of just £2.49. Indeed everything I ordered represented excellent value for money, but things such a Case price of  20 x SPECIAL K Original Mini Breaks with an RRP of £10 for just £2 were incredible value.  My order included Lyons coffee, dog food, Belgium chocolate dipping sauce, flour, olives, tights, baby wipes and much more. Everything was perfect and at a real discount.  The chocolate dipping sauce was a really great resource in sprucing up  plain ice-cream and made for some superfast chocolate truffles as well.

shopping-without-a-supermarket-05It wasn’t just the groceries that were bargains I ordered a Laura Ashley Butterfly mirror which came with an rrp of £8 and a Clearance XL Price of just £2.99. This was a pretty item all tagged and boxed as if it were from the store. Whilst a case of glee mints were just a £1 made a great addition to the car glove compartment and a vintage style top from K&D London, exceeded by expectations with a RRP £35.99 and a  CLEARANCE XL price £2.99 this may well be the star buy of the order.

My next mission was to try out Approved Foods and again they had a straightforward website that was easy to order from.  There was a good level of communication from the store as they e-mailed me to inform me of my orders progress.  They concentrate more on the groceries and also sell fresh produce. They sell toiletries, pet food and all the things you are likely to need for your weekly shop, and they also have lots of world foods and big brands. I spent the same budget with them and was impressed with the amount of lines they carried.  The delivery wasn’t as quick as Clearance XL but still within four days which is pretty good going and it was professionally packed. It was a delight to have a big box of shopping arrive for a small spend and especially when a small spend didn’t mean low quality produce. My order included passion fruits, quince pears, Jerusalem artichokes and fine Swiss chocolates.  The praline filled chocolate was probably one of my favourite items as it did add a touch of luxury to my coffee break but at a definite budget conscious price of just £1.20. The authentic Greek Thyme honey made an excellent addition to my morning toast, but was also fantastic in cooking.  There were lots of products that would aid the home cook such as  the five bags of shredded vegetable suet I ordered for £1 and not least the olives and capers.  There were plenty of big brands and convenience brands available on the site and the savings were up to 70% off the producers recommended retail prices.

shopping-without-a-supermarket-06The fruit and vegetables I ordered all arrived in top class condition and were good quality, my dirty potatoes, scrubbed up a treat and were nice and firm and at only £1.29 for a 2.5kg bag I was very happy.  I struggled to get Quince pears in the green grocers and have never seen them in the supermarket so I was delighted to be able to order them from Approved Food for £1.49 each. Indeed some of the products that were available on their website wouldn’t have looked out of place in a good deli such as the Saveur Gourmande Fig jam I purchased for 59p , two jars of Romesco sauce for £1.20 or the two bags of barley pasta I purchased for £1.20.

Some of the recipes I made from the produce that arrived from Approved Foods were a beautiful Gluten Free Passion Fruit Cake. This made the most of the passion fruits I purchased at just 20p each and put a few of those potatoes to good use.  I also made some delicious baked quinces with thyme honey and the Jerusalem artichokes and sweet potatoes went towards making a winter salad that was as tasty as it was pretty and then of course there was the turnip soup. Here are a couple of the recipes you might like to try:

Baked Quinces

shopping-without-a-supermarket-07Ingredients
2 Quince Pears
4 heaped tbsp sugar
500ml water
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp honey

Method
Peel and quarter the pears, removing the core. Place the water, sugar and vanilla pod in a large saucepan and bring to the boil whilst stirring. Add the prepared quinces and poach on a simmering heat for 10 -15 mins. until just tender. Remove the quinces and place in an oven proof bowl. Drizzle with honey and bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes until soft and caramelised. Reduce the sugar syrup until thick and drizzle over the pears. Serve warm with thick double cream.

Gluten Free Passion Fruit Cake

Ingredients:
shopping-without-a-supermarket-08150g butter, softened
150g  caster sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 passion fruits, pulp scooped
Zest of 1 lemon
300g cold mashed potato
200g ground almonds
1 mashed banana
For the topping
175g icing sugar, sifted
Juice of a  lemon

Method:
shopping-without-a-supermarket-091 Heat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4. Grease and line the base of a 20cm-diameter cake tin.
2 Beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, and then gradually beat the egg into the mix. Add the mashed potato and mashed banana. Stir through the passion fruit pulp, lemon zest and keep stirring until well combined.  Fold through the ground almonds and ensure all in well mixed.
3 Transfer the batter to the prepared tin and bake for 1.5  hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Half way through the cooking time cover the top of the cake with a piece of grease proof paper to stop the cake from browning too quickly.
4 Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes, run a knife around the edge of the cake to release the sides, transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
For the topping, put the sugar, lemon in a bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, stir until the sugar dissolves and the icing is glossy. Spoon it over the cake and enjoy.

The nice thing about Clearance XL and Approved Foods was that they offered different products and between the two stores you could get most things you need, reducing the need to shop in supermarkets to a minimum. I shall definitely be using them again and saving myself some money.

You can go bargain hunting for yourself by checking out their websites:
http://www.clearancexl.co.uk
http://www.approvedfood.co.uk

About Seren Charrington-Hollins

ABOUT SEREN-CHARRINGTON-HOLLINS Describing my work through just one job title is difficult; because my professional life sees me wear a few hats: Food Historian, period cook, broadcaster, writer and consultant. I have a great passion for social and food history and in addition to researching food history and trends I have also acted as a consultant on domestic life and changes throughout history for a number of International Companies. In addition to being regularly aired on radio stations; I have made a number of television appearances on everything from Sky News through to ITV’s Country House Sunday, Holiday of a Lifetime with Len Goodman , BBC4’s Castle’s Under Siege, BBC South Ration Book Britain; Pubs that Built Britain with Hairy Bikers and BBC 2’s Inside the Factory. Amongst other publications my work has been featured in Period Living Magazine, Telegraph, Daily Telegraph, Daily Mail and Great British Food Magazine and I write regularly for a variety of print and online publications. I am very fortunate to be able to undertake work that is also my passion and never tire of researching; recreating historical recipes and researching changing domestic patterns. Feel free to visit my blog, www.serenitykitchen.com