A Guide to UK Supermarket Chains
It can be fun and exciting to try a bunch of new and recommended restaurants when you visit a new country. You get to experience the best of local cuisine and you don’t have to worry about cooking or dishes!
But the more places I’ve visited, the more I realize how important it is to familiarize yourself with the local grocery store chains. You get a real taste for the local culture by seeing what products regular people buy and what ingredients they cook with. Plus, you can often find deli counters with local, cheap, and delicious food.
In the UK, the food is pretty similar to the selection you can get in the USA. But at the same time, there are a lot of uniquely English foods. If you’re looking for recommendations, check out my list of 40+ Must Try Foods in the UK. If you’re feeling adventurous and want to make your own food, check out this guide to grocery store chains in the UK.
Waitrose is the most expensive and highest ranking grocery store on this list. In fact, it has such a good reputation that it serves food for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles.
Their food offerings are high quality and they have a lot of organic choices in addition to their own generics brand.
I would liken Waitrose to a Whole Foods (before they were bought out by Amazon). Their food is on the pricier side, but for the selection it’s worth it.
💡 Be sure to sign up for a point card here! You can get free food and drinks depending on how much you spend.
2. Marks & Spencer (M&S)
Marks & Spencer is another expensive and classy grocery store. In addition to foods, they also sell household goods, clothing, and other gifts.
The atmosphere of M&S is quite stylish. They also have a lot of in house products for sale. Again, in this range of supermarkets, I’d say Whole Foods is the most similar option though it’s not quite the same.
3. Sainsbury’s / Sainsbury
I first heard of Sainsbury because of their viral tiger bread / giraffe bread letter. When I visited, I was surprised at the feeling of Sainsbury. It was a bit pricier than I expected it to be but the quality is quite good.
Their atmosphere makes them seem like a higher class option as well. Their marketshare is the second largest in the UK, right after Tesco.
If you’re looking for an American equivalent, I’d say Wegmans or Harris Teeter. (Sorry those of you who don’t live on the East Coast / Mid-Atlantic region and aren’t familiar with the stores.) There are a lot of private label basic products at a good price, as well as great deals on nationwide products.
4. Tesco / Tesco Extra
I’m not going to lie: Tesco is my favorite grocery store chain in the UK. They have the largest market share in the UK for a very good reason! It’s cheap, convenient, and just great. You can find a Tesco or Tesco Express (a slightly scaled down Tesco) pretty much anywhere you are.
The American version of this would be a standard local grocery store. In your area, that could be a Safeway, Stop & Shop / Giant, Foodland, etc.
💡 You can sign up for their delivery service as well if you’re too busy to go grocery shopping on your own time.
Asda has the third largest market share in the UK supermarket game. They do more than just grocery stores and offer other services too. The prices here are very affordable and they have almost anything you could think to get. It was voted the cheapest grocery store in the UK at one point.
Actually, Asda is a subsidiary of the US superstore, Walmart. It makes sense, because of the ownership and range of services offered, to compare it to Walmart. But in my opinion, it’s a bit closer to Target.
Morrisons is the fourth largest chain of grocery stores in the UK. So expect to see a lot of them and for the numbers to keep growing! The selection here is huge, too and ranges from food to home goods to clothing.
It’s another supermarket that feels like an American big box store. Morrisons feels like another Walmart to me.
💡 Check out their online shop for deals too!
Aldi is originally a German store that focuses on cheap prices and discount produce. And when I say discount, I really mean that the prices are quite low. Be sure to check out their weekly specials because you can get some good, cheap groceries very easily.
Actually, Aldi has some stores in America too. The stores are mostly centered in the Midwest so if you’re lucky enough to have one, you already know what it’s like.
Just like Aldi, Lidl is another German discount supermarket. Their prices and customer satisfaction ratings are comparable to Aldi. But the UK’s demand for it keeps growing and they are constantly building new stores.
Lidl is another store that has broken into the American market. Again if you’re lucky enough to have a Lidl nearby, you already know the vibe. If not and you’re thinking of a dimly lit discount shop, prepare to be completely wrong! It’s bright, vibrant, and airy. Prepare to be converted.
Who Shops Where?
In the UK, which supermarket you shop at says more than you think. Similar to the People of Walmart photos, those who pronounce Target like Targé, and people who only shop at Whole Foods, where you buy your groceries is important.
Because the UK still very much has a class system that is very evident in a lot of regular living, why should where you shop be any different? An article in The Guardian sums it up quite well:
While you personally may not care about that kind of thing, just remember many Brits do whether it’s consciously or not. For me, I don’t particularly care about where I get food. If it’s cheap and fresh, I’ll shop anywhere. But in the States, there is a similar sense of class depending on where you shop. A lot of stores have been trying to change their image, but that’s another topic entirely…
Which UK Grocery Store is Best?
There is no easy answer to this. There are a lot of factors that go into what may be the “best” for you. Is it price? Availability? Appearances? Quality of produce? This is where it gets tricky.
A supermarket perceived as high class, such as Waitrose or Marks & Spencer, would be assumed to have more expensive groceries than a discount shop like Tesco or Aldi. What’s funny is that it’s not always the case! Depending on what you’re searching for, Tesco can be more expensive than Waitrose!
What I recommend is look in your area for whatever grocery store is nearest to you. If there’s more than one, I’d recommend shopping at a midrange one on this list. When you’re familiar with that grocery store and its prices, check out the other shops. Then you’ll have a better grasp on what a “good price” in the UK is.
Alternatively, now a lot of grocery stores post their weekly specials and ads online. Try checking online for their prices instead! Be warned that they may not always reflect the actual prices in your specific area, so use them as a general guideline only.
Are you particularly loyal to a certain grocery chain either in the UK or your home country? For me, I’m a Trader Joe’s fanatic and I’m really sad there isn’t an exact equivalent in the UK.