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The State Of Grocery Substitutions

We analysed a years worth of tweets aimed at four major supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons) and recorded every tweet where a customer complained about an inappropriate substitute they received.

Christmas 2023

December is the worst month of the year for supermarket substitutions, accounting for 20% of all complaints. And 11% of total complaints come from just 4 days, the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of December.

In 2023, the 23rd of December was the worst day to receive a Christmas shop, with deliveries 12 times more likely to contain an unacceptable substitute than the rest of the year.

A Year Of Grocery Substitutions

While December stands out as the worst month for grocery substitutes, the rest of the winter months also see higher complaints compared to the summer months.

January and October account for 10% of complaints each, while August accounts for half of this. Once theory for this is that more people turn to online shopping during the winter, when the weather is colder and they don’t fancy popping to the shops.

Retailer Performance

Asda and Sainsbury’s are the worst-performing supermarkets in terms of inappropriate substitutions, with Asda accounting for 47% of complaints over the year. This is a significant figure considering Asda only has 14% market share according to Kantar Worldpanel data.

Sainsbury’s accounts for 27% of complaints over the year, Tesco 19%, and Morrisons 7%.

These percentages are stable throughout the year

Tesco’s lack of complaints is partly down to the fact that they often give no substitute instead of a ‘bad’ one. We didn’t include complaints about a lack of substitutes in our dataset.

It should be noted that because the data is based on tweets, it is not complete and the results can only be taken as an indication of performance. There are lots of things that could influence the data, such as how many of a retailers customer base are active on Twitter.

Reasons For Complaints

We also looked at why people were complaining.

57% of the complaints over the year were about substitutes that weren’t similar enough to the ordered item, 29% were due to pack size or pricing issues, and 14% of the complaints were because of dietary issues.

When it comes to pack size issues, Tesco and Asda both state that you won’t be charged extra for a substitute. Sainsbury’s will provide you with a voucher for the extra cost, and Morrisons don’t make any price promises.

But note that these policies don’t cover value for money. If you order a 12-pack of eggs for £4 and these are substituted with a 6-pack of eggs for £3.50 – this isn’t covered by the price promises of any of the retailers, despite the fact that you’re paying 25p more per egg and you have half the amount you wanted.

Example Tweets

Here are some examples of unwanted substitutes people complained about over the 2023 festive period.

Complete Data Set

Here are all the tweets we collected, including the ordered item and the item that was delivered instead.

Press & Media Inquiries

For any press and media inquiries, or for access to any specific base data, please get in touch with Veronica at [email protected].

Sources & Methodology

Pantry and Larder searched Twitter (X) for the supermarket name and the word “substitute”, so for example “Asda substitute”. We then manually went through a year’s worth of tweets for four major UK supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons) and recorded any tweet that was a complaint about a substitute the user received.

In total, we recorded 793 complaints from 1st January 2022 to 31th December 2023.

To be counted, the tweet must have included what the customer ordered and what they received instead. General complaints about substitutes or the substitute process weren’t included.

Note, this is just a subset of the complaints a retailer will receive about their substitutes and isn’t a complete dataset.

About Pantry And Larder

This is a Pantry & Larder data study.

The home of expert cooking adviceingredient substitutesfood preservation tips, storage advice, and serving suggestions. We’ve spent thousands of hours in the kitchen, rigorously testing everything you see here. We make the mistakes so you don’t have to.

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