Home delivery versus in-person food shopping


It's important to find what works best for you according to your lifestyle, budget and wellbeing

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Image by Marco Verch

By Hannah Boyle

The question of whether to shop in-person or get an online food delivery is one that often dominates the field of food shopping for students. That may sound dramatic, but it’s true. It starts as a question on an open day, asked by a concerned parent or eager student, and becomes reality when you move in and realise that the nearest supermarket really is over half an hour away.

For many in catered accommodation, this argument may be unfamiliar, however those who have invested in the self-catered experience know this dilemma all too well. Online food deliveries were a life saver for me when I had Covid, but now I prefer an in-person experience. However, there really is no correct answer - anyone you ask will have a different answer when they really think about it.

Going to the shops every week in-person can be considered part of the essential student experience – particularly when you have just moved to university, and are trying to find your own feet in terms of what you want to cook and eat. Finding the shop closest to you and going with your housemates to decide what to cook for your first ‘flat-mas’ or deciding what drinks and snacks you should have for your first house party is a fundamental experience – even if you leave a dent in your maintenance loan in the process!

There is also the benefit of being inspired by a shop, which sounds cheesy I know, but when you have made pasta and pesto every day for lunch, sometimes going to the shop gives you something new and interesting to try and inject some variety into your food.

It can be easier to reduce food waste and plastic waste by going yourself too. Recycling the bags for life you will have inevitably shoved into a cupboard somewhere, and only selecting the food you really need for the week instead of being forced to buy it in a multipack. Furthermore, being in-person means you’re able to check for quality, ensuring everything you buy is worth the money you have spent.

Going in-person to the shop also avoids the key downfall of doing it online. With most supermarkets having a minimum spend of £40, it often means that you need to club together with your flatmates to even make it to the threshold. When you are trying to buy three weeks' worth of instant noodles and chocolate in one go, this isn't always the best way to avoid judgement!

However, the online shop is a practical solution, particularly for those living on Campus East or away from the city centre. Like most things in York, it is easier and more efficient if you walk to the shop – but only if you can carry your purchases back. Even when living close to the supermarket, my housemate and I found out the hard way that melons weigh a lot more than you’d think when coupled with a week’s worth of food. Having your shopping delivered to your door is a huge advantage, particularly in the cold and wet of winter (although, I will say from experience, it is sometimes easier to walk to the shop than find where your delivery van is parked amongst rows of accommodation that all look pretty much the same...)

Furthermore, the online shop is the best way to ignore York’s signature weekend hustle of tourists, all desperate to take photos of the Shambles, York Minster and the Jorvik Centre just as you need to speed past. Even with shops on the edge of the city centre, the constant flow of people never seems to stop, and you find yourself stuck on the cereal aisle surrounded by York residents as equally determined to avoid the crowds as you are. Why contend with this when you can get everything you need without leaving campus or your house?

The most important thing to remember is that doing your food shop online has one key advantage: the cost. While you may have to pay a small fee for delivery, you can see how much you spend, compare brands, and make sure you stick to the all-important budget. As we now enter a serious cost of living crisis in which students will feel the pitch just as much, if not more, than the rest of the population, budgeting and understanding your own financial limit is more important than ever. When shopping online and with others, the delivery fee can often equate to the bus fare you’d pay to get there, as well as saving you money on impulse purchases.

"We can weigh up the pros and cons of shopping online and in-person all day, but the most important thing is your happiness and maintaining a healthy approach when it comes to food"

University, particularly first year, is a massive shock to the system as you move away from familiarity, and food can play a massive part in it. We can weigh up the pros and cons of shopping online and in-person all day, but the most important thing is your happiness and maintaining a healthy approach when it comes to food. Do whatever will give you the best outcome: spend an hour looking at different pasta shapes online, twenty minutes deciding which pumpkin will be easier to carry home, or simply spend ten minutes at the campus shop deciding what you want for dinner. Shopping and cooking styles vary amongst students, and that’s a good thing. Shop alone or as a group; online or in-person. Do all or one – each to their own.