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cost of groceries in Britain compared to US

We will be staying in self catering cottages during our trip to England and Wales and would like to know how much to budget for groceries per week. Are they comparable on average to most places in the US?

A good way to check grocery prices is to take a look at the websites for UK supermarkets. Tesco and Sainsbury's are two of the most popular, so take a look at their prices.

One proviso: if you're staying in small towns or villages and there's no supermarket, prices will be more expensive.

Posted by
12218 posts

We had a flat in London for three weeks last May, and mostly did our own cooking. Here is what I recall:

Many fruits and vegetables were less expensive than here in Seattle. Specifically I remember the red bell peppers at 88 pence (they are $1.99 each here unless on sale); a box of blueberries (I think a dry pint) for £1 ( $3.99 here most of the season), broccolini bundle also £1 ($4.95 here so I never buy it).

Beef tenderloin was slightly more expensive, chicken breast supremes (boneless skinless) also more expensive.

I do not recall comparing pasta, bread, or dairy prices, but they definitely were not shocking.

Posted by
8293 posts

It was my impression when shopping in the UK (not in London) that groceries were about twice the price of those in Canada, but my British relatives were shocked at what they thought were outrageous prices here in Montreal. So I guess it is in the eye of the beholder or should I say, the pocketbook of the shopper. Still I suggest you budget at least 30% more than what you spend at home, especially if you will be shopping in small shops.

Posted by
19 posts

Thanks, this really helps. My original guess (with no information whatsoever) was about 20% over what I spend here, since I knew I'd be wanting to try whatever weird new foods were available locally. Still better by a long shot than eating in restaurants every meal.

Posted by
626 posts

There can be large price variations between stores for the same things, so you could save if you can be bothered to shop around.

Posted by
4368 posts

I travel to the US pretty much every year and we always self cater. In the main goceries are cheaper in the UK in comparison to the US. Meat tends to be cheaper in the US however the quality isn't the same. British beef is pretty much always grass fed and that is more expensive in the US than the typical grain fed beef. Chicken is cheaper in the US except for free range/organic which is quite expensive in comparison. Pork is cheaper too although products such as ham is more expensive in the US especially the premium stuff such as Boar's Head which is significantly more expensive when compared to British supermarket premium ham (it tastes better too!) Cheese is cheaper, and better, in the UK with a much broader selection.

Fruit and veg is significantly cheaper in the UK. Tinned (canned) goods are similar in price although you won't find so big a range of tomatoes in tins as you do in the US. You also won't find anywhere near the range of Mexican food available in US supermarkets. Wine is slightly cheaper in the UK, beer is on a par.

Choose your supermarket wisely though as prices vary. Waitrose is a high end store similar to Trader Joe's or Whole Foods. ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury's etc are similar and are more like Publix or Safeway. The German supermarkets of Aldi and Lidl offer the cheapest prices and Aldi is the same in the US as it is in the UK.

Posted by
4528 posts

My impression is that grocery prices are overall cheaper in UK (maybe even more so at the current exchange rate) but that is tempered by the diffrences such as the type of shop and the local popularity of specific goods.

Convenience shops in out of the way places are expensive wherever you are.

Posted by
1292 posts

Sainsbury's on line here for comparison. Some things will be higher priced, some lower. If you know where you are staying google maps should be able to find where the local supermarket is.

Posted by
646 posts

I would guess cheaper than where in the U.S. and where in the U.K. matters a great deal.

But from self catering last summer and four summers ago in London I think we averaged about 20 to 25% more for groceries than at home including the fact that we purchased more condiments than usual as we had to start from scratch. Fruits, vegetables, cheese, beer, cider, and wine were all cheaper than at home. Meats were considerably more expensive with the exceptions of duck and lamb which while not exactly cheap were much less expensive than at home. Condiments, cereals, bread, canned goods were either about the same as at home or 10% or so more expensive. That's compared to Oregon prices.

We try to purchase things don't often get or can't get at home. In the UK we eat duck and lamb, use chutney, and snack on local cheeses. I also get clotted cream and hard cider. I shop the Indian food section too as it tends to be more varied and cheaper than at home. This skews my perception of prices.

Posted by
9809 posts

I've been shopping in Sainsbury's daily for the last five days. Some items are less, some more. What surprises me is that a lot of the prepared foods are fairly inexpensive.

They have numerous prepared meals that are heated in oven or microwave that have no chemicals or preservatives for about 2-3 GBP.

Posted by
3533 posts

Don't overlook Marks and Spencer for groceries, although they made their name with clothing. Their pricing is aggressive and they are particularly good for the wines they sell under their own brands. England by reputation has perhaps the most competitive grocery stores in the world. That means plenty of new products and ready-to-warm-up meals, handy for visitors.

Posted by
533 posts

They have numerous prepared meals that are heated in oven or microwave that have no chemicals or preservatives for about 2-3 GBP.

British "ready meals" are more directly comparable to American frozen TV dinners than to the prepared foods you'd buy in, say, the deli section of an American grocery store. They seem "fresher" because they're sold out of the refrigerated cases rather than the freezers, but that's a marketing trick - as I understand it, the meals are kept frozen right up until they're put out for sale.

That's not to say there's anything wrong with them. They're a good option for a quick, inexpensive meal, if you have access to a microwave. But when you look at them in comparison to the proper American equivalent, they're not such a great deal for the money.

Posted by
19 posts

We have never been ones for prepared meals, my husband is an excellent cook and can whip up a great meal with seemingly very little. (he's been my cook for over 30 years, yes, I know I am spoiled!) Every place we let will have a full kitchen and the few nights "on the road" travelling from area to area, we will be staying at inns or B&B's, but that will just give us an excuse to try to local restaurants.

Posted by
9809 posts

KHbuzzard--do you know that for a fact that the ready meals are frozen and then defrosted before they are put on display? Or have you heard rumors?

I asked and was told they come in refrigerated. The purchaser can freeze them or prepare them by the sell by date which is usually just a few days away.

Posted by
2882 posts

When we stay in London and grocery shop at Tesco, Marks and Spencer or Sainsbury we typically walk in with a little list but look for the sale items. Sometimes we plan our meal around what they are offering. We really like the convenience of some of their premade lunches/dinners for a quick meal after a day of touring.

Posted by
4368 posts

Contrary to what a previous poster stated, the refrigerated ready meals at supermarkets are not pre-frozen. Many can be frozen and to do this with food that has previously been frozen and then defrosted can be hazardous with some foods. Many of the meals are of good quality and are a world away from their American frozen 'TV dinner' equivalent, they are more akin to the meals you can buy at the deli counter in Whole Foods for example.

Posted by
533 posts

It's possible that my information is out of date. I lived in England from 2005-2006 and had a keen amateur interest at that age in understanding where my food came from. I don't remember what sources I was reading at the time.

A google search for "freeze-chilling" (the name for the practice of freezing foods for transportation and storage before selling them as chilled) and "ready meals" turns up a number of research papers like this one, investigating the effect of freeze-chilling on ready meal components. The fact that the research was done means that manufacturers were at least interested in freeze-chilling ready meals, at least for a time. I'm not finding any current sources on whether it's still a common industry practice.

Posted by
8947 posts

According to this article (http://tinyurl.com/pjd4yl3) the meals as a unit are refrigerated from plant to store. But the bulk of the individual ingredients are frozen or dried for months at a time until needed to assemble the meals.

Posted by
8293 posts

But, Michael, isn't that what all home cooks do ... use frozen, dried or canned ingredients to "assemble" a meal? In this context, I understand the use of the word "assemble" to mean "prepare".

Posted by
9809 posts

I wouldn't exactly call the Daily Mail a credible source especially since the article is over two years old.

Posted by
274 posts

Don't forget going to street markets if they are available and convenient. Getting things seasonably can get you better prices as they need to move a lot of product and probably better quality. The markets can also be a fun experience meeting people who are passionate about what they grow/produce and you can find unique things.

Posted by
533 posts

The Daily Mail is the Daily Mail, but the author of that article, Joanna Blythman, is an experienced journalist with a long track record of researching and writing about the food industry (albeit somewhat sensationally).

I don't know why you'd dismiss an article for being two years old. Industry practices and products change over time in response to evolving consumer demands, but I don't think significant change happens quite that quickly.

Posted by
8947 posts

isn't that what all home cooks do ... use frozen, dried or canned
ingredients to "assemble" a meal?

I'm the complete opposite of a "foodie", but I have never used frozen meat or dried ingredients to make a meal. Canned food: guilty as charged.

But there is no way a retailer like M&S is producing as many meals as it does, as cheaply as it does by using mostly straight from the farm components.

Posted by
8293 posts

Dried foods to make a meal can include pasta, rice, couscous, noodles, dried herbs, and maybe flour to thicken a sauce. If using frozen meat I generally thaw and cook it to make it easier to chew. Same with frozen shrimp.

Posted by
43 posts

Hi - I have not read all the replies but here're my thoughts after just returning from south England and a self-catering. We shopped mostly at Waitrose, the only supermarket in our town. I found groceries generally cheaper than here in Vermont. This may be because of the exchange rate now. As the person from Portsmouth, UK said, fruits and veggies are definitely cheaper there. Cauliflower and peppers - I could not believe how cheap. Also, they have such interesting ready-made foods, much better than the US, especially sandwiches which cost very little. It's fun shopping in the UK!
Restaurant prices are about the same as around here in VT. Enjoy it all! jb

Posted by
4528 posts

Groceries must be dear in Vermont if they seemed cheap in Waitrose ... seriously glad it worked out for you.

Posted by
5980 posts

Don't forget to add the sales tax to US prices.

Posted by
17 posts

Re sales tax on food in the U S: there is no tax on supermarket food in Pennsylvania, although there is tax on a restaurant meal. And the state of Delaware has no sales tax on anything at all!

Posted by
4368 posts

"......Restaurant prices are about the same as around here in VT....."

This is what irks me so much about restaurants in the US. The cost of a restaurant meal is pretty similar in the US and UK yet UK restaurants still manage to pay their staff a decent wage and make a profit. US restaurants expect their customers to pay their staff (twice effectively) so imagine the profit they're making!

Posted by
1063 posts

JC Portsmouth (lived there for 33 years), the main problem I've found whilst living and visiting in the US is that the tipping culture is so heavily ingrained in the US thinking that a lot of people do it automatically without a thought even if the meal was expensive and the service was rubbish.

Posted by
4528 posts

Looking back I see reference to cheapness of certain vegetables - there has been a glut of things like cauliflower this year, so are especially cheap as they are up to 100% oversupplied (much of the surplus was exported to Scandinavia). Asparagus was also early and plentiful.