The growth in popularity of major superstores such as Asda, Morrisons and Tesco over the last 20 years has forced many high streets across Wales to adapt to challenging conditions.
The small town of Brynmawr in Blaenau Gwent is no exception to this trend, with the Lakeside Retail Park that contains an Asda, Home Bargains and Farm Foods built near the town. We visited Brynmawr to see if it is still possible to do your weekly food shop on the high street, and how it compared to shopping at the town’s Asda superstore.
It was clear from the outset that the overall experience would be the most different thing here as I headed to the two locations with my list of 25 items. And while you might assume that supermarket shopping comes with the benefit of much lower prices, that’s not strictly how it worked out for me.
Broken down, the cost of each item on my list ended up being quite similar in both places, and I was able to return home with 20 of the items from Brynmawr high-street for £36.88, as opposed to the full 25 items in Asda for £41.69.
For the items that were available on the high street in Brynmawr there were some very competitive prices with great value for money on things such as toiletries and fresh fruit.
One thing that strikes you as you go through the town is the warm welcome you get from the individual shop keepers who are all very grateful for each customer, many of whom they know on a first name basis.
They offer a much more personal experience that is catered to the individual here, and after doing all my shopping under one roof in Asda for more than ten years it came as a welcome change.
In the fruit and veg store I was greeted by shop owner Kelvin and his assistant Rachel, who immediately offered to help me with things such as weighing out produce, packing bags, or recommending items that were particularly good on that day.
It also felt nice to know that much of the fresh produce on offer in the store was locally sourced and will go towards supporting other business’ such as farmers and bakers who live in the area.
I bought a number of items that included, a loaf of bread for £1.30, two pints of milk for £1.10, a bag of new potatoes for £3, and an extra large bag of green beans for £2.20
Comparatively, prices in Asda were £1.05 for the bread, 80p for the milk, £1.40 for the potatoes, and 89p for the green beans, though on the high-street I was given the option to bag and weigh the amount of each product for myself.
While it took a little extra time to do this it meant I was able to customise each purchase to suit my needs, taking as much or as little as I liked, as opposed to many items in Asda that came in pre-packed amounts.
In the Meats ‘R’ Us Butcher shop on Beaufort Street I bought three large chicken breasts for £4.50, along with five slices of gammon ham for £3.09, and two rump steaks at £7.22.
This was quite similar in price to Asda which cost £7 for two pieces of steak, though the advantage again came on the high-street with being able to speak to the butcher face to face to get the exact amount of meat I wanted when ordering larger pieces.
Next I headed to the town’s new zero waste store, Zero Local, where I bought items such as rice, eggs and pasta, all being individually weighed and measured to meet my needs by the friendly shop owner Kate Oaks.
I was again struck by the charm and colour of visiting separate stores here, with the added perk of being able to sit down for a post shopping coffee in the adjoining café. It was here that I was able to reflect on my morning of shopping in both places.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience of doing my shopping on the high street, as it offers a much more personal and social experience between the customer and seller that a major store doesn’t have.
Price wise it was very competitive, and had some big advantages such as getting a more catered service from individual shop keepers who could customise and recommend me products. There is definitely a sense of charm and nostalgia as you walk around the high-street shops to find out what’s on offer as well, which is a big plus if you’re looking for something different while doing your weekly order.
However, there were also some downsides to the experience of shopping in the town that gave some clear advantages to Asda.
Firstly there were some items I was unable to buy on the high-street without going in to a brand store such as Costcutter or One Stop. They were the cans of lager, butter, hand sanitiser, pasta sauce and fruit juice, though admittedly these were all still available in the town.
Shopping in Asda saved me a lot of time as well, almost half an hour in fact, along with the task of carrying heavy bags from shop to shop in what could have been potentially bad weather.
With everything under one roof it was also very easy to locate the items you wanted in the superstore with signs above each of the aisles to help find your way around, and the option to pay using the self scanners at the end. There was also a wider variety of items on offer with huge numbers of products that ranged from named brands to home brands all being kept inside.
Social distancing was also well adhered to in both locations, with almost all people wearing masks and sanitizer available on entry, and in some of the smaller stores only two or three people were allowed in at a time.
So the question, shopping local or in a big store? In the end, while it was was much more convenient and efficient in terms of time and ability to purchase all the items in Asda, there were a number of positives to shopping on the high street that meant if I had more time on a any given day I would definitely shop there again for certain products.
The full shopping list included: Bread, milk, butter, rice, crisps, beer, chicken, steak, eggs, apples, bananas, grapes, carrots, potatoes, broccoli, green beans, toilet paper, hand sanitiser, toothpaste, pasta sauce, tinned tomatoes, baked beans, fruit juice, pasta, and sliced ham.
Items bought on the high-street:
Three chicken breasts £4.50
Two rump steaks £7.22
Six eggs £1.40
Bag of apples £2
Bunch of bananas £1.73
Bag of potatoes £3
Head of broccoli £1
Bag of green beans £2.20
Toilet paper £1
Tinned tomatoes 70p
Baked beans 80p
Sliced ham £3.09
Items bought in Asda:
Three chicken breasts £3.76
Two rump steaks £7
Bag of apples £1.40
Bunch of bananas 98p
Bag of potatoes £1.40
Head of broccoli 47p
Bag of green beans 89p
Toilet paper £1.90
Hand sanitiser £2
Pasta sauce £1.25
Tinned tomatoes 80p
Baked beans 69p
Fruit juice 89p
Sliced ham £3.76