Notes about shopping
These notes are personal opinions about shopping, mostly in the
Oxford-London (UK) area.
The reviews contained or listed in this page are usually
my personal impression of the notable aspect and the
overall worth of the things described rather than in depth
After some wavering I have decided not to remove obsolete
entries, but to mark them as such, if I notice they are obsolete
and I remember to mark them. Obsolescence here means the stuff is
no longer available or not at the noted price.
I used to put shopping notes into this page, but I have
changed my mind as most notes become rather dated and
fit better within
I will put here brief pointers to those notes here:
Older shopping notes
large grapefruit can (060911)
- Just discovered at my
local Coop supermarket
that they have cans of grapefruit segments which are excellent
value: £1.49 for 1.25kg (675g drained). it is a bit of a
pity that they are
IN LIGHT SYRUP but is is indeed
light, and overall it contains 14g of sugars per 100g, which
is not much higher than orange juice. The actual grapefruit
segments are just about over half the contents, but the rest
is in effect a grapefruit juice drink. Once opened the
contents should be eaten within 3 days, but the can is not so
large that is a problem.
Marks & Spencer
british premium pork sausages
- These are a fascinating example of the importance of reading
carefully the label. The context is that most british
sausages are made with relatively little meat, usually
50% or less (some with none at all).
This peculiar situation has been immortalized in the popular
culture, for example it is a central plot device in the
Hacker: What have they got against our sausage?
Some british consumers therefore have tired of semi-vegetarian
(or worse) sausages, and there is therefore a
market for premium sausages with meat in them. Well, these
Bernard: Don't you ever read the papers you give me?
Hacker: I glanced at it, but it rather put me off.
Bernard: Apparently, there's not enough meat in it:
"The average British sausage consists of 32.5% fat, 6.5%
rind, 20% water, 10% rusk, 5% seasoning, preservative
and colouring and only 26% meat, which is mostly
gristle, head meat, other offcuts and mechanically
recovered meat... ...steamed off the carcasses."
Hacker: I don't feel particularly... I had one...
I had one for breakfast.
Bernard: Perhaps the EEC commissioner is right.
Hacker: He may be, but it'll be extremely
unpopular with the voters.
british premium pork sausages don't taste very
meaty to me, and indeed the label says
made with 93% british pork from selected cuts which
means that any part of a swine can be an ingredient,
including finely ground bones or sinews or hair or skin or
Double checking, protein content (the leading indicator
for meat content) for 100g is 14.5g, which is pretty low for
meat; fat is 22g, which is somewhat lower than non-premium
sausage. The sum total of
nutritional values includes also 3.5g of carbohydrate, 0.6g of
fiber, and 0.6g of sodium. Total is 41.2g out of 93g. Then
what is the remaining 51.8g of
pork of no
Also, if one looks at this
table of protein content for various types of meat
where pork meat contains on average 27% protein, it seems to
me that that perhaps these sausages may contain 93%
pork, but probably only around 55%
Great is the power of words... Food industry lawyers press
ahead with dissembling and prevarication, for example I found
thoroughly amusing paper
with this quote from a letter by a sausage manufacturer:
In your letter you state that "the use of an
additive such as emulsifier disodium diphosphate is not in
keeping with purchasers expectations for sausages described as
traditional style" and as such this product should not be
labelled "traditional style".
However, I refer to the Food Standards Agency
"Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural
etc in food labelling" page 15, point 57 which states that
"the term traditional should demonstrably be used to
describe a recipe, fundamental formulation or processing
method for a product that has existed for a significant
period", (point 11 stating that this should be of the
order of 2 generations/50 years).
With regard to this recipe, I can confirm that Country
Park Foods, (formerly T.E. Newsholme Ltd) have been
manufacturing sausages using the seasoning in question for
over 50 years. Indeed three generations of the family are
still working at this site in the capacities of Chief
Executive, Directors and Managers.
Primark basic clothes (060509)
- Primark specializes in cheap clothes, typically imported
from eastern Asia, and they are indeed very cheap, with
£2.50 polo shirts, £1.50 white t-shirts, £1.00
knitted boxer underwear and £0.40 for men's cotton socks,
and £0.33 per handkerchief.
After a few weeks of use they seem all of reasonable endurance,
but then I specifically chose plain simple items. I would be warier
of more complicated items of clothing, especially brightly colored
ones, as for these the temptation to cut corners maybe higher.
Anyhow corners have been cut even in the simple clothes, at
least as to the quantity of materials. The shirts are shorter
than they should be (while still barely adequate), the pockets
of trousers are somewhat shallower than desirable.
Temple of Heaven
gunpowder chinese tea
- Nice, good value
box of loose gren tea,
slightly smoky flavour (a bit like Oolong); the 125g
box costs £0.80 from Oxford's nice
Lung Wah Chong
chinese supermarket (which I like quite a bit even if it is
somewhat expensive), which also has good value bags of chinese
pears for £1.00.
Green&Blacks's organic cocoa
- This 125g tub contains pure cocoa powder, not
chocolate powder, which contains mostly sugar and other
stuff. The Sainsbury's price is £1.49, which is rather
lower than most online places you can find it
from. However Oxfam shops have the equivalent
tubs of the same size for the same price.
I especially like it in the morning mixed in with
milk. Cocoa powder mixed in with water was the traditional
bitter water, because good
cocoa is bitter. But mixing it in with milk effectively hides
the slightly bitter taste, which is not necessarily unpleasant
- Subscriptions to The Economist and Business Week cost a lot
less than buying the issues retail. But there are pitfalls,
especially with The Economist, who try to be too clever by
half, and probably succeed with most people.
For Business Week it is
even if the price for the UK is significantly higher than for
other countries, at around £25 per year, which is however a
the retail price of only six issues.
For The Economist the
is to be carefully avoided, as only a one year deal is
available and for £99. If one instead buys a retail copy and
uses the included subscription form the one year deal is
significantly cheaper, and the three year deal comes to around
£165, or £55 per year.
The Economist also try to be clever with renewals, as they
are significantly more expensive than subscribing from scratch
again, and are yearly, so the price can be increased every
year. It is much better towards the end of a subscription to
buy a new retail copy, fill in the subscription form again;
even a few weeks of overlap between the old and new
subscription cost a lot less than the difference with a
The Economist clearly hopes that renewals, especially for
non personal subscriptions, are mostly automatic and people
do not check them closely, and the difficult bit is to get
people to start a subscription, so that has to be priced
keenly, and after that renewals are not price sensitive.
Co-op supermarket italian peach punnets (050820)
- I particularly like because of quality and value Co-op's
current punnet of italian peaches and usually french apricots.
Both white and yellow peaches are currently available, and
each punnet with at least 8 of them costs £0.99 which
is quite cheap. Some of the punnets are ready-ripe, some take
a few days to become riper. As to the apricots, the punnet of
same size costs £1.99 which is a bit more expensive,
but nice fresh apricots (mostly ripe) are usually worth it.
Not always available though.
Foldable crates and plastic shelves at Argos (050331)
- Argos is selling pretty good foldable boxes/crates, for
£8.49 for a pack of 5 crates, and for £19.99 for a
5 tier shelf, each shelf being 38cm deep and 71cm wide. These
shelves assemble very quickly without tools, and seem pretty
robust (for now).
Argos also sell big fairly robust (shorter sides double
walled) Fellowes cardboard boxes for £12.49 for a pack
Acer AL1714 17" LCD at Office World (041122)
- Occasionally big chains like OfficeWorld have well priced
things, and the
seems fairly decent and £199 is about as good as it
gets for it, even for mail order.
PC133 SDRAM at eBuyer (040921)
- Currently DDR SDRAM sticks sell for about £45 to
£60 per 512MB, and presumably because there is less demand
SDR SDRAM sticks sell for more. However eBuyer is
selling PC133 SDR SDRAM for significantly less than that, around
£28 per 512MB
(and similarly for other sizes), which is not bad.
Haymans fish place in the Oxford covered market (040818)
fresh fish, and nice packaged
fruit-de-mer salad, anchovies and kabanos.
Sainsbury's Extra Virgin Olive Oil, two varieties (050702)
- Berio's 1.5 litre plastic bottle for £9.49, and the
Casolare 1 litre glass bottle for £5.49. The Berio is
smoother and sweeter, the Casolare is tastier and sharper. I
quite like them both, typically for salads, but also just on
bread, either toasted or untoasted, as a snack. The bread may
be first rubbed with a garlic segment to do garlic bread
(which is a lot better than the bizarre english variety with
butter and ground garlic).
Doom III and books are cheap on Amazon.com (040813)
Quite surprisingly, it seems that the lowest UK prices for
Doom III and Half-Life 2 can be found at Amazon,
where they can be preordered (and at least for Doom3 the
release date is really imminent and fairly solid) for
£24.99 each, which is significantly lower than most
other places. These are the Amazon.co.UK pages for the two
One can order both for the special price of £48.98!
Now that sounds funny, but I guess they are already discounted
The price for each is just a penny short of the £25
for free (but a little slower) delivery. Adding a book to
cross that threshold is practically free, and I like these,
even if they are not quite summer reading:
The Tipping Point,
Great Human Diasporas,
Guns, Germs and Steel.
BTW, I haven't had a look at Amazon for a while, and it
really seems that they have gone back to being a discounter.
This will ensure their survival even if just as a low margin
business (but presumably with relatively little capital, so
high return on capital, except that they raised too much).
Sainsbury's Ricotta (040610)
- This ricotta tub is not expensive at
£0.86 for 250g and is quite good.
LG L1710S 17" LCD Comet (040523)
- £290, and I have the L1710B (with DVI; the L1710S is
analog only), and it is pretty good.
Bulk CD-R at The Computer Shop (040420)
- £6 for a spindle of 25, or £17 for a spindle of
100. They have shiny metallic unmarked top.
Athlon 80mm fan+heatsink at The Computer Shop (040420)
- £12 for a very nice Akasa copper case Athlon
heatsink+fan with an 80mm diameter. 80mm fans are much quieter
and more effective than 60mm ones. Possible problem: the fan
rotates at 2500RPM, and some BIOSes have a lower threshold on
power on of 3000RPM.
- 17" LCD Acer at
The Computer Shop
and Comet (040118)
- Fairly good value 17" Acer, for under £300.
Taste the difference mackerel (040115)
- This is fairly nice and tasty, at £7/kg, compared with the
nice, but not quite as nice, £6.40/kg ordinary variety
in the same shop.
Cheap AA batteries at MusicWorld (0401xx)
- They sell packs of 4 AA batteries for one pound or less.
That's less than half than most. The packaging seems a bit
dodgy, and the batteries, even if marked
may not be such. But they seem to be good. Perhaps they just buy
them wholesale from Duracell and package them themselves.
Prince's reconstituted ham (040319)
This I really disliked, it seems to me that it can be called
ham only by special dispensation. For what it is, and being
ham the price is also very high.
Marks&Spencer's tins of Ox Tongue and Honey Roast Ham (040315)
Having long lasting tinned ox tongue and honey cured ham means
never being without the meat for a sandwich or a quick meal,
but the quality of the ox tongue is amazingly good and that of
the honey roasted ham is also quite good. Slightly pricey, but
not that expensive (less so than shrink wrapped equivalents).
On specific shops
Primark sells cheap clothes obviously imported from
low cost manufacturing countries. The basic stuff is
cheap and seems of sufficient quality.
It is surely a welcome sight to see such prices,
because up to now most retailers have taken advantage
of much cheaper wholesale costs (apparently garments
from China are traded for ¢50 each irrespective
of type) from globalisation to increase management
salaries and sometimes company profits, without
passing them on to consumers. The income of most
consumers (those without protected jobs) instead has
been reduced over time by globalisation.
- The Computer Shop in the
Westgate Shopping Centre
This is probably one of the best computer shops in the
area. They tend to have a good selection of stuff, their
systems are from Time Computers that tend to give good value,
and the prices are quite decent. Way better value than PC
- This shop is in the shopping park in Botley Road, a bit
hidden in the back of Curry's. It's nothing special, but it is
probably the best value electrical/electronic goods store in the
area. Even some of the computer stuff is not too bad. Usually
better prices and better stuff than Curry or PC World.
- This shop is at the Kidlington roundabout, at the end of
London Road. It's not too bad, and the prices are not bad
either, but their selection tends to include fairly shoddy
stuff (lots of Trust products for example, which I find to be
often not very good).
- This shop is near the TESCO in Cowley Road. It's not too
bad, even if prices are a bit high and their selection
is a bit limited.
The Oriental Condor chinese restaurant
- This is probably the best value chinese place in Oxford, and
arguably the best quality too. The food is very freshly
prepared and tends to have crisp, just-cooked flavours, and it
seems to be popular with native chinese people.
The ambience is excellent too, and with some rather pretty
murals, lots of light, simple and enjoyable, service is very
good despite some occasional languag eproblems with the
staff. prices are fairly low too, a pretty good meal can be
less than £10.
The Pizza Express
- The Pizza Express in the Golden Bow shopping area has
rather good, thin and low, italian-style pizza (these notes
are written by an Italian). The ambience is very pretty, as it
is a 17th century building, tastefully and simply furnished,
and prices are not too high either.
- Astonishingly, the Caffe` Uno italian restauran in George
St. is not too bad. The italian dishes are done pretty well
(an italian is writing this note). As usual, tend to avoid
creamy recipes, that's not like most italian food (fettuccine
Alfredo are fake).
- Check the weight
- Often supermarkets try to sell items by unit when they are
obviously traded by weight, for example apples. As a rule, the
price by unit is way higher than that by weight, when the
latter is available too.
- Packaged food is (usually) more expensive
- As a rule, food which is packaged in any way is more
expensive and lower quality than the same product sold loose.
For example apples in a plastic bag tend to be less entincing
and cost about 20% more than the same type of apples taken
from a chest and put in a plastic bag by a customer. Shops
seem to reckon that people that buy a bag of stuff will not
check the weight/price and the quality of the individual items
like they would do when buying the same product loose.
This applies to fruit and vegetables, but also, and in
much greater measure to delicatessen. Sliced ham or whatever
in bags usually costs a lot more (typically twice) than the
equivalent product sold by the delicatessen counter.
- Check the location
- Usually shops will place product so that the more profitable
ones will be nearer the entrance. For example, for orange
juice, immediately after the door one can find little bottles
of refrigerated juice that might cost £7/l, then further
on some larged bottles of refrigerated juice for
£4.50/l, then further on again cartons of non
refrigerated juice for £1.20/l, and then half hidden in
a corner cartons of value juice for £0.33/l.
- Fish oil capsules
- I had just bought a couple of bags of
Taste the difference
mackerel; apart from being quite tasty and easy to eat, for
example in sandwiches, mackerel contains omega-3 oils that are
quite fashionable. The price for 100g of mackerel is
£0.70, and 100g contain about 6g of omega-3 oils.
Well, further on in the chemist shelf there were fish oil
capsules from Seven Seas, each of which
contains 0.200g of omega-3 oil; price is £4.50 for 60 of
them, about 12g. Do the math, and enjoy your
Nice online computer shops
- The stuff in the
DABS value section is usually
quite good and very cheap. As a web site it is particularly
well done and simple, without using stupid HTML/JS tricks, and
good search options, and good account management.
- Almost as good as DABS overall. But the web site is not as
well done, using some stupid HTML/JS tricks, and annoying
- Nice Yorkshire mail order, with a limited selection, but
with good items and good prices, and good service.
- They sell mostly memory, both RAM sticks and flash card, the
prices and quality are good. They also sell a very limited
range of video cards, currently all ATI based, for good
- Not particularly cheap, but good site, and sometimes they
have hard to find stuff, and they have DVD/video stuff that
computer shops often don't have.
- They have a particularly well organized web site, and a good
selection of some rarely found stuff, for example Geil
- Fairly cheap, fairly good selection, sometimes good
bargains, good site organization.
On specific product types
- 5"/8cm DVD-R and DVD-RW (050331)
Mini DVD-R and DVD-RW are fairly difficult to find, but they
are really rather useful as they hold 1.4GB, this allowing one
to put a full GNU/Linux LiveCD such as Knoppix in a pocketable
format. Unfortunately some of the prices are ridiculously
high. From the UK:
has DataWrites for £0.85 each.
has Maxell DVD-R at £7 each.
has Maxell DVD-R at £8 each.
- Argos astonishingly has rather expensive packs of three
of two very rare items:
That's right rewritable and double sided,
each side with a 1.3GB capacity. The price is the same for
either single or double sided, £19.99 for three.
- Single sided 5"/8cm DVD-RW.
- Double sided 5"/8cm DVD-RW.
- I have also found both 5"/8cm DVD-R and DVD-RW at the
BCF computer fair on Saturdays in London
where I was happy to find a tub of 25 5"/8cm DVD-R
for rather less extortionate prices than the individually
packaged ones, and a reasonably cheap box of same size