Empty shelves in your local supermarket? Here are 15 alternative places to find groceries
In these crazy times, the supermarket shelves are empty and you need a supermarket alternative.
I spent nearly a year shopping outside of the supermarkets as a challenge a few years ago and I found lots of places to buy food.
1. Your local zero waste shop hopefully won’t have empty shelves
A zero waste shop, is a shop that sells products loose, often in dispensers. You usually need to take your own containers with you to transport your food home in. To find your local zero waste shop have a look at my UK directory of Zero Waste Shops .
Some can be used as a full supermarket alternative because they stock fresh food. Others only stock household products and dried goods. Look at their website/ give them a call to find out what they stock, whether they are open and what you need to take with you, before you go.
From what I have seen online, many of them are working really hard to stop shelves from being empty and some are offering to take your list and pack up your order for you/ home deliver.
2. Wholesale and bulk online stores
We often buy food in bulk quantities, because it reduces packaging and cost by weight. One of the places we shop is Wholefoods Online. If you buy through my link here: Buy Whole Foods Online*referral link* and put in the referral code: 28952000 we will both get 250 loyalty points when you make your first order. Take a moment to look for a discount code before you buy too.
Another place we have shopped is Infinity Foods Wholesale . There are high minimum order costs (varies depending on if you can pick up / where you want it delivered to). If you can’t afford it or don’t want so much all in one go, then if possible club together with friends and family on an order.
There are more wholesalers all over the place. Look into what your local area has to offer if you want to buy in bulk.
3. Farm shops – depending on which one they could be a full or partial supermarket alternative.
Sometimes these are at a farm and sometimes they aren’t on an actual farm, but are linked to a farm. They usually sell a range of goods and some can act as a full supermarket alternative i.e. you could get most of your groceries here. Depending on the shop products may be more expensive than usual supermarket prices or cheaper. It is worth comparing prices and shopping around.
4. Farm gates – get there early to avoid empty shelves
These are different to farm shops in that they tend to only sell one product – the product that the farm produces. I have found shopping from the farm gates, especially in bulk is cheaper by weight. I have previously bought trays of eggs and honey directly from farm gates. When I bought eggs from the farm, I set up a rota of friends and we all took it in turns to go to the farm every few weeks. We would buy trays of 30 eggs and they would last a few weeks.
5. Corner shops – an alternative to supermarkets for basics and top up shops
Corner shops are more expensive in general, but I found during my time avoiding supermarkets, that popping to the corner shop for top up bread and milk saved me money. I wouldn’t get distracted into buying lots of other things I hadn’t planned to and that is so easy to do in the supermarket! I don’t know if your local one will have empty shelves, but take a look and ask them when they are getting supplies topped up.
6. Milk delivery
Milk and More deliver milk to your doorstep. We got our milk delivered in glass bottles for a while, but it is extremely expensive and in the end we stopped. If you can’t afford the glass, the plastic bottled milk is more reasonably priced. They do vegan milks too – they even have oat milk in glass bottles. (Although you could save yourself a lot of money by making your own oat milk.)
7. The fruit and veg box supermarket alternative – no empty shelves, but hard to get onto their books right now.
On and off we have had fruit and veg boxes delivered. It can be a very convenient way to get fruit and veg delivered to your home, which is mostly unpackaged. Some companies allow you to pick and choose the fruit and veg you want. They sell lots more than just fruit and veg – you can get a wide range of products from these places.
Big companies that offer organic fruit and veg deliveries include Riverford, Abel and Cole and Milk and More. Have a look into some of the smaller local ones to see if they have any availability and if they are more affordable as well.
During my time avoiding supermarkets, I really enjoyed shopping at a local grocers. Most of the fruit and veg was unpackaged and I would take my reusable bags and fill them up. Some have a fridge with chilled products too and sections for store cupboard ingredients. They can be a bit expensive, which is why I stopped shopping there at the end of my challenge. Right now though, some of the more expensive places may be more likely to have supplies available.
Check out your local butchers and fishmongers. They are a good supermarket alternative to find meat, fish and poultry. I found my local ones to be good places to get produce unpackaged. At the moment I would imagine they wouldn’t be happy for people to bring their own containers, but you could ask.
Do you have a local bakers that has bread on the shelves? In normal circumstances they are a good place to get unpackaged bread that you can take home in your own bread bag. You would need to check what the situation is now with your local baker.
Another alternative is to make your own. See if you can get hold of the ingredients (look in your local grocers, corner shop, wholesalers or online if the supermarket doesn’t have any). It is pretty easy to make and you can also make bread the zero waste way
11. Speciality alternative supermarkets
In my town we are lucky to have a lot of speciality supermarkets, in particular, Chinese, Thai, Middle Eastern and Polish ones. I shop in our local Chinese supermarket every so often for bulk rice, nuts, soy sauce, bicarbonate of soda and herbs. In our local Middle Eastern shop they also sell things like bulk lentils, chickpeas, tahini, olives, pickles, herbs and much more. Last I looked there were no empty shelves there, but things may have changed.
12. Supermarket shelves may be empty, but you can still find past their best foods
There are a couple of websites which sell foods which are past their best before date. They are still perfectly safe to eat, they just might not be at their optimum flavour and texture. Foods sold through these sites tend to be cheaper though. For more information look at Approved Food and Love Health Hate Waste.
13. Local fruit and vegetable, meat and fish wholesale shops/ markets
These places sell fresh food in vast quantities, so you either need a hungry family, a big freezer or a friend to share your purchases with. I tried out my local wholesale fruit and veg market a few years ago – you can read about my experience here: 5000 apples, a million apples and a bananas amount of bananas.
14. Farmers markets and street markets
I don’t know if these will be running as usual, so check before you go. You are more likely to get artisan and organic produce at farmers markets, but it is also likely to be expensive. Normal markets which sell non-organic produce will be cheaper.
15. Visit bulk buy places as a supermarket alternative if you can.
These are wholesale shops. People go here to buy in quantity. You often need to have your own business, or have a friend or relative that does. Plus you or they will need to sign up to a membership. Examples include – Costco and Bookers. Also a lot of places describe themselves as a cash and carry shop. Even wholesale shops may have empty shelves, but stocking up here can save you money overall and mean you have less regular shopping to do.
If you do buy in bulk, then read these tips for how to avoid food waste when you buy in bulk.
A note about food banks
If you are good for food and can afford it, please consider donating to your local food bank. Because of the run on food and worries about jobs, donations are down. Food banks are needed more than ever during this time! If you aren’t good for food – find out how to get help from a food bank and do it sooner rather than later as things are changing fast at the moment. Take a look at the Trussell Trust as a starting point.
I hope you all stay safe and find enough food to eat!