My supermarket shopping trolley tends to be a mixed bag of products of different brands and prices. The number of products with modestly-packaged budget alternatives seems to be at an all-time high but their quality varies – I find that some items are hardly distinguishable from their more costly counterparts, while others are nothing short of an assault on the palate! Cheaper chains Aldi and Lidl are currently enjoying something of a Renaissance, having become very in-vogue with shoppers recently due to their stocking of great quality products at low prices, as well as winning various taste tests (Aldi even beat Fortnum & Mason for the best mince pies last Christmas!), suggesting that the standards of cheaper groceries are rising. But is this true of the larger supermarkets’ budget lines? Earlier this year, Good Food magazine conducted a large-scale taste test study of value groceries in all the main supermarket chains and concluded overall that the majority were received favourably, with the notable exceptions of meat, eggs and jam. This post is based on my personal experience from Tesco’s Value and Sainsbury’s Basics range.
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Here are my top and bottom 6 buys…
Okay, admittedly nothing’s ever going to beat Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for me in the chocolate stakes, but both Tesco Value and Sainsbury’s Basics milk, white and dark chocolate bars are actually very nice. The white and milk varities are lovely and creamy and the dark, though its cocoa content is significantly lower than more costly brands, has a nice fudgy taste. I always have plenty of all three types in my cupboards for baking as I find them surprisingly forgiving when they’re melted in the microwave, but I often find myself nibbling on them purely because of their taste as well.
Flour is one of those things where I simply can’t tell the difference between the budget types and the more expensive ones. Perhaps the pricier ones are slightly more finely ground but personally I wouldn’t pay more when my cakes always turn out fine using Value or Basics self-raising.
3) Cream cheese
If I’m opting for a full-fat variety, I find Tesco Value cream cheese a fantastic cheaper alternative to Philadelphia. It has a smooth, creamy taste and texture and is great for cheesecakes.The ironic thing is, I actually don’t like the Tesco (non-Value) own-brand Healthy Eating version and tend to buy Philadelphia Lighter if I’m feeling calorie conscious and want low-fat cream cheese.
I love Tesco Value milk and dark chocolate digestives and individually wrapped chocolate digestive biscuit bars. I also find their bourbons, custard creams, shortbread and ginger nuts very eatable considering the low price tag. I’d buy fancier biccies if it was for a special occasion but these old faithfuls are perfect to keep in the cupboard to go with a cuppa.
5) Jam (for baking)
I can see why budget jam tends to be unpopular with shoppers in comparison with more expensive brands due to its overly smooth, synthetic taste and lack of real fruit pieces, and it certainly doesn’t compare with homemade. However, I often use Value or Basics strawberry jam in baking as its smoothness and spreadability (is that a word?!) makes it perfect for sandwiching sponges or biscuits or putting a neat blob in thumbprint cookies without any lumps or bits.
6) Margarine spread (for baking)
I certainly wouldn’t spread this on my toast but when you’re on a budget and make lots of cakes the big 1kg tubs of cheap margarine are a thrifty godsend. I tend to use real butter in things like shortbread or scones, especially if I’m making them for other people, as I find I can taste the difference in these, but I honestly can’t fault budget margarine for a nice fluffy Victoria sponge or chocolate cake.
The less said about Tesco Value mayo, the better. I find the vinegary taste and sloppy texture simply awful. Hellman’s or Heinz all the way when it comes to this condiment!
2) White bread
I try to avoid eating too much white bread as a rule anyway as it doesn’t agree with my digestive system but I find budget sliced white particularly unpleasant. I remember reading that if you scrunch a piece of bread up in your hand and it doesn’t uncurl it’s a sign of a poor quality loaf, which your stomach will not thank you for ingesting as it struggles to break down its toxic stodginess. In my experience, Tesco Value sliced white bread is the epitome of this!
I wouldn’t say these are outright disgusting but their flavour and strength doesn’t match brands such as PG Tips, Tetley, Typhoo, Yorkshire Tea or Twinings in my opinion. As a passionate tea drinker, I really like to properly enjoy my cuppa, and I like it strong!
I’m really not a fan of any budget brand meat, despite its wallet-friendly price tag. I remember buying some cook-from-frozen Value chicken fillets packed full of additional water, salt and preservatives and they shrunk by at least a third of their size when cooked! They also tasted pretty hideous. For great meat, you really can’t beat your local butcher; it’s well worth the extra pennies.
I recently tried Tesco Value’s Shreddies equivalent and I have to say they were quite nice, but the budget versions of Coco Pops, Rice Kripsies and Cornflakes are grim in my experience, with a bland flavour and strangely chewy texture.
I sang the praises of budget biscuits earlier but for me the same can’t be said for cakes. Tesco Value jaffa cakes are the worst offenders in my view – they’re horribly dry and stale-tasting. Tesco’s Value chocolate chip cake bars aren’t terrible but they taste rather processed and look a bit sad and lifeless.
What are your experiences of budget products, good or bad? Are you a fan of supermarket value ranges or do you avoid them completely? I’d love to know other bloggers’ thoughts!