The following comment from one of our readers in July got You’ve Earned It thinking…
“One small thing I find difficult now is – buying for one! Local supermarket shelves are well stocked, (usually), but buying small amounts for one person is a nightmare. Buying loose fruit and vegetables is obviously the way to go, but everything else is packed in amounts for four or more! Checkers, I find, has a small pack of vegs which is enough for two meals for me, but even these are very limited. I have suggested to my local supermarkets that maybe they could set aside a small area where they keep small amounts for us singletons. Seems to go straight in one ear and out the other, though. I freeze where I can (large tins of tomatoes etc) but even the small tins are expensive and it is not financially viable to buy small tins. I do like variety and I buy fresh wherever possible, but on a very limited budget, this is becoming a juggling act. Have you any suggestions?”
You’ve Earned It spoke to several readers to try and put this “issue” into perspective.
Hilary lives on her own. She tries to keep her food budget manageable within the bounds of a senior’s income, but hadn’t realised how disadvantaged she felt.
Hilary says: “The first thing that springs to my mind is pillow packs of lettuce. I enjoy lettuce, but not mounds of it in a salad. If you have ever kept a pillow pack of lettuce for longer than four days, you know how it becomes slimy, smelly, and inedible? Quarter of the pack of lettuce is a very generous helping, enough to make me feel like a rabbit! I now tend to buy baby spinach as it lasts a few days longer, but still I am picking out the slimy leaves towards the end of the packet. So, I have mastered salads without lettuce.”
The YEI reader mentioned above talks of buying loose vegetables and salad, but there are some, like lettuce, that you cannot buy loose. So, the solution is a bed of rocket and lettuce in the garden where you can pick individual leaves. Not always possible if you live in a flat or bedsit, but plans can be made – like buying a small pot and growing the lettuce next to your window.
You’ve Earned It decided to embark on some research of its own, and went on a visit to Checkers, Pick n Pay, and Woolworths, to look at fresh vegetables. At the Pick n Pay branches, we never saw anything in the vegetable section packaged for one. The single serving packs of vegetables at Woolworths (100g) ranged between R14 and R22 depending on the vegetables inside – and, yes, they were cleaned and ready to cook. But the 400g pack only cost R35. At Checkers, we found a 120g single serving pack of broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots for only R9.99. Pick n Pay have recently started selling more and more of their vegetables pre-packaged, so the option of buying loose is dwindling fast! Woolworths seems to be going the same route!
On a trip to Woolworths we were met with “Buy Bulk and Save”. Across the board, we found that the specials were geared towards bulk shopping. But, in general, if you browse the “specials” broadsheets that arrive en masse in one’s mail box, it is not the half litre of milk on special, it is the two litre bottle. It is not 100g of chicken, it is 2.5 kg! It is not 250g of marg, it is 1kg. When you consider bulk savings in fresh vegetables – unless you are going to pack your deep-freeze to the hilt with home-made soup, where is the advantage for singletons?
As the YEI reader said, you can buy meat (provided it is not pre-frozen) and some of the canned produce and repackage them in single portions and freeze. But not everything retains its texture when frozen. Yes, in some places, you can buy chicken breasts individually separated in the pack, but they are beyond many folks’ budget.
Dairy is another area where single people are disadvantaged. In most places, if you buy one litre of milk, it is more than half the price of two litres. You pay around R28 for two and R17 for one, depending on the dairy and the store! If one does not drink a lot of milk, it could be a struggle to finish one litre before it goes gelatinous and smelly. The half litre is an expensive option!
We appreciate there are packaging costs. There is also the law of supply and demand, but the 2011 census found there were 4,132,169 people over 60 and 20,2% of these over-60s live alone. These figures have shown a steady increase since the 1996 census. Analysis of the data found single households to be predominantly in the urban areas. Single people are definitely a minority, and are clustered in urban areas, but why must they be penalised for cooking for one?
We asked the retailers themselves for comment on this topic:
Checkers: “As the low price leader, Checkers aims to cater for all its customers. We are therefore constantly looking at how we can also better accommodate those with single and/or smaller households, and welcome feedback in this regard. Some examples of the Checkers offering include a selection of pre-cut vegetables that are sold as single servings in 120g packets. Mielies are now sold in packs of two, and three different kinds of smaller lettuce pillow packs that contain servings for two are also available. The majority of the convenience meals at Checkers are single portions and it is of course possible to buy single portions from the deli.“
Pick n Pay: “Pick n Pay works hard to meet the needs of all our customers, from families big and small, to couples and singles. The single customer looks for appropriately-sized, quality products which are both affordable and available and we do our best to meet and anticipate their needs. Our exciting range of convenience foods are ideal for one good serving or two small ones. Examples of these are our 350g packs of beef bobotie, chicken and broccoli bake, and cottage pie, or our 285g PnP roasted vegetables. Items that can be frozen or stored safely may also be bought in bulk to reduce costs over time. We’re also expanding our range of fresh vegetables in smaller packs – from 100g to 300g – and our range of 250g bags of frozen vegetables is available in most stores. We’re continuing to work on our offer and have great plans to grow our current range.”
Woolworths: “At Woolworths, we continuously engage with our customers and gather insights on what they want and expect from their Woolworths Food Shop. This informs our Foods Strategy and trading approach. A large portion of our customers shop at Woolies predominantly for our fresh food offering and over the years we have expanded our portion offer to include single, two person, four person, and family solutions. The majority of our fresh ranges include one and/or two meal portions – loose produce, including Cook’s hub; prepared meals (e.g. 300g lasagna soups), dairy (cheese, yoghurts, milk), bakery (fresh and pre-packaged breads, muffins, cakes), meat/fish/pork/ostrich, and our interactive meat, fish, and deli counters offer comprehensive choices ideal for a single portion. We have also expanded our well-known deli offer and launched a Good To Go range to offer quicker, more convenient solutions for our hasty customers. Most of our fresh offer is also suitable for freezing. To encourage more customers to come to Woolies for their main shop, we have expanded our long-life grocery, household and personal care proposition over the past few years. These ranges are offered to our customers, ideally for a one or two person household, as well as in larger sizes suitable for families.”