My first attempt at ethical shopping

I ventured out on my first ethical shopping trip with trepidation. Would I comply with my own rules or would I fall at the first hurdle? At least I remembered to take my own bags.

As my rule was to shop locally, my first stop was our town green grocers. I often mean to use local shops, but when you’re in a hurry it’s all too easy to get everything at the supermarket. But a friend recommended this shop and I wasn’t disappointed. There was a good selection of produce at a reasonable price. And I felt pleased knowing my cash was supporting a community business.

But while the shop was local, obviously not all the fruit and veg was. While I found locally grown potatoes and English onions – presumably stored over winter – I spotted US and Chilean apples on the shelves as well as the usual Israeli oranges and lemons. I’m fond of tomatoes but the only ones were from Morocco, so I passed. Instead I bought a big bag of onions and potatoes, and compromised with some French apples and Dutch peppers. The total came to just over £6. Not bad at all.

Next I headed to Waitrose on our high street. While it’s hardly frugal, the supermarket came second to M&S in the 2007-8 Compassionate Supermarket of the Year Awards. Usually if we’re doing a big shop we’ll visit Asda, but owner Walmart has been accused of anti-union activities, conflicting with my intention to support workers rights.

Waitrose fruit and veg is lovely but not cheap, so I was glad of the green grocers. We were short of chopped tomatoes and sweet corn, so I headed to the canned food aisle. The tomatoes weren’t British but they were from Italy, so not so far away as Morocco. I felt a pang of guilt though and determined to grow more of our own tomatoes and store them in jars, as DJ has suggested. I bet they’d taste much better.  The sweet corn on offer was vaguely described as ‘produce of the EU’. I chose Bonduelle’s organic sweet corn, costing 89p. I wonder if the chickens will taste the difference…At least Waitrose own brand oven chips for £1.39 were made from British potatoes.

I used to buy Ecover washing up liquid regularly but recently downgraded to Cleanfresh liquid for 43p. At £2.15 for a litre bottle, compared to 86p a litre for Cleanfresh, Ecover is pricey. But I could save cash by getting a top up from our health food shop and recycling the bottl.

I considered buying king prawns but while Waitrose stocks ecologically farmed ones they are still – of course – from Indonesia and Ecuador. I felt torn between supporting these communities and the food miles, so I passed. Two free range chicken breasts on offer set me back £4.73 but they were from the UK.  However, on visiting a butchers closer to me to buy more, I found two free range chicken breasts selling for £3.55.

At £1.99 for 340g, Whole Earth peanut butter was 42p dearer than the Sunpat I buy. But Fairtrade Jackson’s tea worked out cheaper (60.8p per 100g) than the Yorkshire tea we’ve been spoiling ourselves with recently (79.6p per 100g) (I hate cheap tea). Last but not least, I braved Waitrose diet cola. Coca Cola has been accused of suppressing union activity, so it was off limits. Obviously it didn’t taste the same but at £1.45 for six cans (£2.63 for Diet Coke) it was over £1 cheaper.

How the prices compared:

‘Ethical’ shop

Waitrose diet cola 6 pack £1.45

Jackson’s Fairtrade tea (80) £1.52

Waitrose free range chicken breasts £4.73

Whole Earth peanut butter £1.99 (340g)

Boudelle sweet corn 89p (326g)

Waitrose chopped tomatoes £2.19 (Italy)

(4 cans)

Ecover washing up liquid £2.15 a litre

Waitrose oven chips £1.39 (1.8kg UK)

English onions 1kg 77p

Local potatoes 1kg 29p

French golden delicious 1kg £1.96

2 Dutch peppers £1.64

Waitrose recycled toilet paper (4 rolls) £1.84

Total: £22.81


My usual shop

Diet Coke 6 pack £2.63

Yorkshire tea (80) £2.54

Waitrose free range chicken £4.73

Sunpat (340g) £1.57

Asda sweetcorn 38p (326g)

Asda 4 tins chopped tomatoes £2.24

Cleanfresh 86p a litre

Asda oven chips £1.16 (1.8kg EU)

Onions 1 kg (UK) 87p

White potatoes Asda (UK) 1kg £1.38

Asda golden delicious 1 kg £1.37

Asda peppers 63p each = £1.26  (origin unknown)

Asda shades toilet roll (4 rolls) £1.50

Total: £22.49


All in all, I was surprised to see just how close the shopping bills were and that the ‘ethical’ shop was only a few pence dearer. Although of course it may be different with a bigger shopping list. I will be making an effort to buy locally from now on because not only is it supporting community businesses when times are tough, but often the prices are better too.

Do you think we should buy locally and support community businesses when times are tough? Or have your local butchers and greengrocers disappeared in the march of the supermarkets?

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8 Responses to My first attempt at ethical shopping

  1. Christine says:

    You should make full use of your health food shop if it allows you to get refills of things like Ecover. It\’s worth looking at what else they have as you might be able to get things like pulses in your own containers. Lentils and pearl barley, various beans that you can soak overnight are all good extras if you are going to grow your own vegetables and enable you to make better use of the limited local vegetables such as swede, carrots, onions, leeks, potatoes which are available over the lean end of the year. It\’s amazing what you can do with these and lentils for many a soup. An excellent way of helping you to buy local vegetables. You can probably pick up a used vegetarian or soup recipe book in your local charity shop to help you out if you\’ve no recipes to hand. If you can live without the Coke Cola you will be a few coppers in hand to buy slightly better elsewhere. Mind you – it\’s supposed to be excellent for removing lime scale from the toilet if you have a serious problem!

  2. piper says:

    It\’s something I\’ve been trying to wean myself off and I only have the odd one now and again. But if it does that to limescale I dread to think what it\’s doing to my insides! I didn\’t realise you could get pulses in your own containers. That\’s a great idea. Just planted some onions and some peppers in the green house.

  3. sally says:

    you should join a food co op i suggest Suma buy what you need ie rice sugar tea coffees beans pulses etc infact, whatever you find in the health shop is for sale from suma. it s where most of the shops get theirs from. buy whatever you need. cut out the middle man sace money minimum order £250 but you could easily spend that per month in a supermarket if it is too much, get friends to make up an order with you ecover £1.99 in a shop at Suma you would pay £17.85 for 12x1L OR £6.99 for 5L of the same shops only charge you these prices because of wages rent staff heating etc do the math and join at

  4. Stella says:

    How much fuel does it take to travel between shops? Or is it a walkable distance. I sometimes find that going to the various shops takes up more time and fuel for the very small differance in foodprice.

  5. ROTSUKHON says:

    I am 50 years old and unemployeed for the first time I have struggled for the last two years thinking things will get better I now get £93 per week for me and my wife. I waited untill we had nothing before claiming 3 1/2 weeks into the claim I got paid £257 and then got a tax bill for £523 the next day no money for the mortgage if the tax payer can go to the wall why can\’t the banks. when your self employeed you make the mistakes you pay or work for a bank and get £650,000 a year for life and you dont even have to sign every two weeks. If eveyone are equal how come I only get £5000 a year why does he get 130 times more than me and my wife?

  6. Mack says:

    ROTSUKHON its because my friend that banker has committed more sin then you and his soul is more tarnished then yours, the good people of the world will not succeed in the same way an evil person will, and a greedy banker is one evil person.

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