An ecology of supermarkets

The UK grocery market is bigger than Australia’s. Australia basically has Coles and Woolworths. You might count IGA, too. However, the competition in the UK is much more intense and strangely, there is a relatively clear hierarchy of ‘poshness’.

From my eight months here, the hierarchy of prestige seems to be:

  1. Waitrose
  2. Marks and Spencer
  3. Sainsbury’s
  4. Co-op
  5. Tesco
  6. Asda

There are others that I’ve heard of or walked by but I can’t place on them on the poshness ladder because I haven’t experienced them. Aldi is probably near Asda, at the bottom. There’s also Morrisons, apparently one of UK’s ‘big four’ supermarkets. I wouldn’t have known it existed except that Damjan had to go into one once to ask for directions (we got lost while travelling in Yorkshire). I’ve also been to Somerfield. There is a full list of UK supermarkets on Wikiepedia.

I’ve talked about Sainsbury’s on my blog before. Little Sainsbury’s in the centre of town is my main grocery store because I like what it sells, I like its layout and ‘vibe’, and it only takes me 15 minutes to walk there.

There are other mainstream grocery options, though. The Co-op is even closer than Sainsbury’s but I find it expensive and I’ve had bad experiences with clueless staff there.

On special occasions (when I need anything exotic), I go to a really big Sainsbury’s further out of town. It’s 2 km away. I would normally ride there. Riding home with a heavy backpack is made harder by a serious hill and busy traffic.

You might remember that I once ordered from Tesco online. I’ve never been inside the actual Tesco because I always thought it was far away. However, I’ve just looked it up and it’s even closer than big Sainsbury’s! It is in a very busy part of town, though. There’s a big road with lots of traffic. I’m a little nervous of riding there.

I love going to Marks and Spencer. It’s full of beautiful food. Often, I go just to look at the cold sections and the shelves. I might spend twenty minutes before finally selecting a chocolate or a yogurt. I visit M&S to reward myself after a tough day or after handing something in.

I want to visit Waitrose one day. Waitrose is at the very top of the supermarket ecosystem. If I love M&S, imagine what Waitrose will be like! The nearest Waitrose store is 5 km away. Maybe I’ll bike to it as a field trip or for exercise.

Anyway, the reason I started this blog post is because yesterday, I visited Asda for the first time. I found a shortcut there and discovered that it’s actually as close to my house as little Sainsbury’s!

Asda was huge and confusing. I felt a bit frightened, actually. Nothing was where it should have been. The chips weren’t near the biscuits. The fruit section was split across three aisles. The skimmed milk was hidden. I couldn’t find the honey. The meat was all mixed up instead of being organised by animal. After about fifteen minutes, I wanted to flee to my familiar, safe little Sainsbury’s.

I wandered around for an hour and had to get help twice. I eventually gave up looking for low fat mature cheddar cheese because I just wanted to get out of there.

Interestingly, at the checkout, I was the only person with a reusable bag. Everyone else was taking plastic bags. I think it’s because Asda targets people on lower incomes. I don’t know why lower income people tend to use plastic bags. Maybe they don’t care about the environment as much?

At Sainsbury’s, about a third of people seem to have reusable bags. A British friend tells me that everyone at Waitrose uses reusable bags.


  1. joanium says:


    But I heard over the loudspeaker while I was there that Asda was selling reusable bags made of recycled plastic for 5p (12.5 cents Aussie).

  2. 3088 Silver says:

    I donno but Asda’s layout is more organised than Tesco’s. There was once in Tesco I was looking for a halogen lightbulb for my table lamp. It was at the toiletries section, together with shampoos and soaps! International adaptors were stacked next to Easter bunny chocolates??!!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps the poor are too preoccupied with other immediate and more pertinent issues or needs in their lives that reusable bags are not on the top priority. It is inherent to want to fend for yourself before you look out further. Why should they look long-term when they don’t even know what the short-term is going to be like? Perspective is what we all need but perspective does not come readily or easily.

  4. joanium says:

    I have no doubt that if you are worried about the rent, you won’t think about plastic bags versus reusable bags.

    Of course, the best solution is to reduce people’s worry about the rent. So, in addition to that, what else can be done to make people more environmentally conscious?

    It’s already cheap and convenient to get a resuable bag (or, like me, use a backpack you already have). Does that mean we have to push the message about waste even harder so that people care a smidge more? Or that we need to make plastic bags expensive?

  5. n la danseuse says:

    I’m not sure I quite agree with the placement of Co-op as posher than Tesco, mainly because I’ve always considered Co-op a bit of a free agent (or something) in terms of supermarkets — quite aside from them not really being supermarkets in my opinion. Also, I still fail to see how Waitrose can be posher than M&S, but I do remember getting comments from the in-laws when the Young Man took up shopping at Waitrose for a while (mainly due to a nicer selection of fairtrade stuff and good veg rather than any social pretensions of his own).

  6. Brad says:

    I will take you to Waitrose one day, Joan. It is very lush. The aisles are so wide; the food selection so European and organic. The shoppers are all very middle-aged. Bags are still plentiful, but not thrown down your throat like at Tesco (did I ever tell you that I got another home delivery from Tesco … I bought 24 items and got 21 plastic bags. I asked the driver to wait and take them back, but he refused). We will need an afternoon at Waitrose – Waitrose shopping must be relaxed.

    Strangely, we both blogged about ASDA on the same day. Here is my post:

  7. David J says:

    Low-income people may well be using free plastic bags instead of having to pay for garbage bags. I know I do.

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