As a student, food shopping can be an event much like laundry: an annoying but necessary task that we often try do as quickly and with as little thought as possible. However, by taking stock of the various shopping options available in Lancaster, planning ahead a bit, and being a savvy consumer, you can save a considerable amount of money and improve the quality of the food you eat.
In this piece I’ll lay out the main food shopping options you’ll have as a Lancaster student, and their respective pros and cons. Hopefully, having read it, you will avoid the fate of living solely off Pot Noodles and Greggs pasties.
Campus Convenience Stores
As a first-year student, you’re likely staying in accommodation on campus, so your first ports of call will be Spar and Central. Spar is centrally located nearby to Alexandra Square, whilst Central is on the other side of campus near Pendle and Grizedale colleges. These are relatively small stores that provide convenient access to basic cooking ingredients, drinks, and lunch foods. Though they are useful for bits and pieces, you’re probably best off not making these shops your go-to for a weekly shop: prices are higher than supermarkets and the selection is limited.
The Farmers Market
Every Thursday, in Alexandra Square on campus, there’s a farmers market which sells all manner of local produce, handmade and homegrown foods, and lunches ranging from sushi to hot dogs. It’s a good way of getting hold of local ingredients as well as local delicacies – such as ‘lemon cheese’. Yes, really (its less weird than it sounds).
Going to Lancaster’s largest supermarket on a Wednesday became something of a ritual for me during my first year at the university. Why, you ask? Well, like a more wholesome version of the free bus trips to the Sugarhouse on a Friday night, on Wednesday there are free buses from the university to Sainsbury’s – and back. Sainsbury’s has by far the largest selection of food on offer of Lancaster’s food shops. There are all the staples you’d expect: meat, vegetables, ready meals, alcohol, frozen foods, world foods; as well as a butcher’s counter, delicatessen, and bakery. Sainsbury’s strikes a good balance between value and quality – their own-brand goods are generally of a high quality compared to other major supermarkets. Furthermore, much of their food is ethically sourced or locally grown – for example, all of their own-brand fresh meat is British. There’s also a selection of non-food items, such as homeware and toiletries. The bus takes you to and from the carpark, meaning its easy to buy and transport large quantities of food. This is your best bet if you want to do a week’s worth of shopping at once and save on money.
Lancaster City Centre
Beyond Sainsbury’s – but, handily, only a short walk away – are the shops of Lancaster’s city centre. There’s Marks & Spencer if you’re looking for something more upmarket, but on a student budget there are some cheaper stores that will probably be of more use to you. Home Bargains and Poundland can be very useful for toiletries, tinned foods, and essentials like tea and coffee. There’s also Iceland, which specialises in frozen foods, has some nicely priced fresh fruit and vegetables, and is also handy for those summer barbecues you’ll no doubt be having. Lancaster is a fairly compact place, so its easy to drop into all of these stores in one trip – or have a quick look through before you do a big shop at Sainsbury’s.
Just outside of Lancaster is Morecambe, which has some great budget options for food shopping. There’s Asda, which is a similar size to Sainsbury’s and has a huge selection of food at low prices; and Aldi, one of the ‘German discounters’, with very cheap prices but a comparatively limited selection. Although both of these options are cheaper than anything available in Lancaster, they’re also further away, so you’ll need to take some time and money out to reach them on the bus. Fortunately, buses to Morecambe can be taken straight from the university underpass.
Of course, if you don’t fancy venturing out on the bus for your shopping, there’s always the option of home delivery. Both Asda and Sainsbury’s offer this service, and it has been extremely useful to me in saving both time and money. I often find that being able to sort products by price, and being able to see all of the special offers together in one place, leads to me spending much less money on food than I otherwise would have. Additionally, once you’ve done a few online shops, the websites will remember which products you buy frequently and suggest them to you, making shopping even more convenient. The downside of this option is that there is a minimum spend of £25, and you’ll also have to pay a small fee for the delivery. This can be alleviated by ordering a few days ahead of the delivery date, or by spreading the cost amongst a few people by ordering a shop with a few of your flatmates or friends. The latter option is especially useful as you can buy products in bulk amounts, saving even more money.
That just about covers all of the main options for food shopping in Lancaster. With a bit of knowledge of the choices available, its easy to find the sort of food that you’re after. Plan ahead, save money where possible, and use all of the resources at your fingertips.