British Supermarkets

Supermarket

The grocery market in the UK is a very competitive one, although there are only a few major brands who dominate the market with the rest holding very minimal market share. 

Today, we’ll explain what you need to know about British supermarkets in the case you’re visiting as a tourist or moving here as an expat. The most recognised brands, also called “the big four” are Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons.

Tesco Logo

The largest and most well-known supermarket in the UK is Tesco. It holds almost 30% market share and you can find it in almost every major city or town. Tesco has different types of shops.

  • In the outskirts of cities, you’ll find the larger Tesco Extra. Here, you can find almost anything, including home items, clothing, electronics and many other items as well as food.
  • In city centres, mostly on high streets, you will find Tesco Express. Here, you can find essentials such as fresh bread, pasta and a large selection of lunches (sandwiches and drinks) and dinners (microwaveable dinners). 
  • Tesco Superstores can also be found in the city and they offer the essential foods with a few additional home items and Tesco Metro is slightly larger offering a greater selection of home items, but smaller than a Tesco Express.

The prices at Tesco are average and you can find very good discounts on some items. Tesco also offers a clubcard, which is free to sign up for. Each time you buy something, you can scan this card and your purchase converts into points. For each £1 you spend, you get 1 point. You can then spend these points in their supermarket or on one of their partnership programmes on holidays, household items and even convert them to Avios points for flying.

Sainsbury's logo

As of May 2020, the second-largest supermarket in the UK is Sainsbury’s. It was founded in London in 1922 and has since grown to own approximately 15% of the market. You can find Sainsbury’s throughout the country, but it is much more present in the south of England. Unlike Tesco, Sainsbury’s only has two types of shops: supermarkets and convenience shops.

  • Supermarkets are much larger, found in the outskirts of a city and offer a wider range of products, including home items, patisseries, clothing and even opticians.
  • Convenience shops are more central, on the high street, and offer the essential food for those who live centrally.

Sainsbury’s also has a points card, but this is the Nectar card. The Nectar card is used in a collection of stores throughout the UK, including petrol stations, eBay, train travel and the Eurostar, cinemas, cafés and Sky (a telecommunications company).

Asda is the third-largest supermarket in the UK and it’s the equivalent of Walmart. The prices of products are fairly low with a promise to match the prices of other supermarkets. Asda comes in many shapes and sizes. 

  • The largest shops are Asda Supercentres, which are hypermarkets. They are normally in the outskirts of a city centre in business parks and offer everything from food to clothing to homeware. 
  • You also have Asda Superstores, which are slightly smaller and can be found in the outskirts of less populated cities and Asda Supermarkets which are even smaller. 
  • Asda also has stores that sell clothing and homeware with no food products, although they trade under a different name: George Stores

In 2018, Sainsbury’s and Asda announced they were merging together, but due to strict competition rules, this was abandoned.

Morrisons Logo

The next largest supermarket is Morrisons, with approximately 10% of the market. Morrisons also offers average prices of most products. This brand only has one type of store- the supermarket and is usually found in the outskirts of town. Morrisons can’t be found in every city and it’s much more visible in the north of England than other areas. They also have a loyalty card, called the “More” loyalty card, where you collect points for every pound you spend.

So these are “the big four”, but the market is crowded and there are many other brands too, including Lidl, Aldi, Waitrose, The Cooperative, Iceland and M&S Food amongst others. Every high street will have some brand of supermarket, although if you can’t find what you want, you may need to head outside of town to the larger shops.

Online shopping is very popular in the UK too. You can easily find the website for each supermarket and have food delivered to your house. Especially since the pandemic of COVID-19,  this has become a very popular way to shop.

Tips for using supermarkets in the UK

  • Self-checkout is a thing. Although there are a few tills around, most people use self-checkout in the high street stores. There are normally clear instructions on how to use each machine, but you will need to scan the barcode of the item then place it on the scales so they can ensure you have scanned the correct product. You can pay at this till, then leave with your products.
  • Plastic shopping bags are not readily offered. You are expected to bring your own recyclable bags along to the shops to pack. If you do require a single-use plastic bag, you may need to ask for one and it will cost you 5p minimum.
  • Plastic shopping bags are not readily offered. You are expected to bring your own recyclable bags along to the shops to pack. If you do require a single-use plastic bag, you may need to ask for one and it will cost you 5p minimum.
  • People don’t pack your bags for you. In many countries around the world, you are offered to have your bags packed for you. This doesn’t happen in the UK, you are expected to pack your own bags. You may find charities offering to do this with the expectation of giving money to the person for the charity, but this isn’t very often.
  • Use your loyalty cards. Most loyalty cards require you to be a UK resident and have a UK address and the card will be sent in the post to you a few days later, so this is mostly recommended for those living here or staying long-term. If you scan your card every time you purchase something, you will soon find your points increasing and be able to use them for a “free” shop.
  • Own-brand products are normally cheaper. If you’re looking for a cheap shop and don’t mind using products that aren’t classic brands, such as Heinz, then choose the own-brand products. This means the product has the name of the supermarket on it. Most UK supermarkets have invested heavily in own-brand products and they can be considerably cheaper.
  • Take a pound coin for the trolley. If you’re doing a quick shop, you’ll probably only need a basket, but if you want to buy more, you can use a trolley instead. However, you often need to insert a pound coin in order to access a trolley. When you’ve finished, don’t forget to return the trolley and get your pound coin back.

British supermarkets will be very similar to those around the world, but I hope this has provided some insight so you know which shops to look out for on the streets.

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