Farewell, HelloFresh – how the middle classes are coping with rising food bills

The Clarkes are one of many middle-class families who are combating rising food prices by going out for fewer meals and ditching Waitrose

Before the pandemic, the Clarke family thought nothing of multiple weekly trips to Waitrose and eating out regularly.

Now, as the Berkshire-based family of five, plus a dog, cat and tortoise, face grocery bills of up to £1,000 a month – a 40 per cent rise since 2020 – things have had to change.

“We used to buy everything from Waitrose because it’s the nearest shop to us. Every other day, we would go and buy a few bits from there, but now it’s got to the point where you can’t leave without spending £50 on one bag of shopping, which is ridiculous,” says mum Kath, 45.

“We just thought, this can’t go on. We have had to really start budgeting, something we didn’t have to do before. We would sometimes just throw things in the trolley and not really think about how much it was going to cost, because it was the same things we needed to feed the family. But now we’re much more aware of price.”

The Clarkes are among the 63 per cent of Britons who have already made cuts to their usual spending, according to YouGov data. Further data from Gallup shows 46 per cent feel their living standards are getting worse, in line with public sentiment following the financial crash of 2008.

Now for the Clarkes, gone are the casual Waitrose drop-ins, in lieu of more focused online grocery shopping from Tesco, organised around a cupboard inventory check and a meal plan, which the family did not do previously.

“I found we were buying things without realising we had loads of things in the cupboards that we weren’t using properly – there would be 10 cans of coconut milk, for example.

“The kids also eat a lot of fruit, which is expensive, so we’re now more open to buying fruit that’s less than perfect and exploring different varieties,” says Ms Clarke.

The family keeps a closer eye on how much they are spending via a dedicated top-up debit card just for the food shop.

“It means we can see exactly what we’re spending, which is good, as food has become one of the biggest expenditures in our monthly outgoings, behind childcare.

“It made us see that it is easy to get some food of the same quality if you just shop smarter, and don’t go for convenience over time. When you plan in advance, you waste less and you’re more in control. It just takes time to do it.”

The Clarke family have also cancelled their HelloFresh and Gousto meal box subscriptions, which can cost anywhere between £40 and £70 a week without offers, as they found them an extra expense for meals their children would not eat. And they have swapped eating out for cooking and entertaining at home.

“We’d go to Pizza Express, and you wouldn’t leave without spending over £100, and the children didn’t appreciate it. So we’ve been more conscious of going out when it really matters,” says Ms Clarke.

“Our friends are knackered parents and they just want to come over and have a nice spaghetti Bolognese and a glass of red wine and relax. It’s cheaper than going out.”

She has also been reviewing the recipes they cook, looking to Instagram for inspiration on how to bulk out meals with cheaper items such as lentils and pasta and less meat.

Ms Clarke said: “Even two parents working in professional environments on quite good incomes have been hit. It’s something that’s rippled through all areas of society – I don’t think anyone’s immune to it, apart from the super-rich.”

On the positive side, Ms Clarke reflects, the cost of living has made the family more conscious of food waste. It’s been an opportunity to teach the children about budgeting and to donate anything they will not use via the Olio app.

“You think, God, we really have been using meat and expensive foods in a very luxurious way, without really thinking about the cost. But you can really spread that food out if you just get the recipes that show you how to bulk things out with healthy ingredients,” says Ms Clarke.

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