Are you always on the lookout for a great way to save money on groceries? As a self-proclaimed "yellow sticker expert," I've got insider tips on how to score the best deals on discounted items at supermarkets and also explain why the yellow sticker deals are more elusive these days.
As you likely know, yellow sticker bargains refer to discounted food items, very often fresh food, in supermarkets, with short use-by dates, that have been marked with a yellow sticker indicating a reduced price. These are a great way to save extra money on your weekly food shop.
The yellow sticker has, sadly, become somewhat rarer in recent months, and the poorer availability of yellow sticker bargains can be put down to a couple of important factors:
Increased demand for discounted items: With the cost of living crisis making things more difficult financially, lots of people are now seeking out discounted items, including yellow sticker bargains. This has led to increased competition for these products, making them harder to come by. I worked for Morrisons for 2 years, leaving in April 2022, and I worked as a code checker, which meant that my main role was to find products with a short shelf life and discount them via a yellow sticker. When I started that role, we would have around 10 regular people a night come into a grab a bargain; when I left, which was just as the cost of living crisis kicked in, that figure increased to around 40 to 50 people a night coming in to grab a deal, and that's meant there was far less to go around!
Food waste apps: Supermarkets have started to embrace the waste food app revolution! Apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio have teamed up with supermarkets, both large and small, and these apps are giving the stores the opportunity to clear excess food, in bulk, without the need to clear the products via the traditional yellow sticker reductions route. I was involved in producing Too Good To Go "Magic bags", and generally, what would happen was that rather than reducing a product, we would add them to the Magic bags instead. This then resulted in fewer yellow sticker products going out onto the shop floor, therefore, less availability for customers.
More and more supermarkets have gotten involved; most recently, Aldi has teamed up with Too Good To Go and is now clearing excess food via this method rather than using their normal system for reduced-price food. Sainsbury's has introduced a loose fruit and vegetable box, where excess stock is put into boxes and sold off as a bulk buy for customers, again reducing the number of yellow stickers being found on the shop floor for customers.
Improved inventory management: Supermarkets have become more sophisticated in their inventory management, which has led to fewer items being marked down. By tracking sales data and adjusting their ordering accordingly, supermarkets are better able to avoid overstocking and reduce waste. The cost of living crisis and the increasing cost of food production means that the supermarkets will do their utmost to avoid wastage, and in many cases, will rather sell out of something than have to discount or, worse still, throw food away, and that partly why you see more empty shelves in the shops these days! Supermarkets lose a lot of money throwing out products, so it's in their best interest to throw away as little as possible!
There will always be a number of reduced items in the reduced section, offering a great discount for those bargain hunters out yellow sticker shopping, but I suspect we will see a reduction year on year.
So what is the best time and best way to try and grab great bargains?
Most major supermarkets perform two rounds of yellow sticker food discounts on products; normally, first thing in the morning and then early evening or the end of the day. This can vary a little as different supermarkets have different food reduction strategies.
The morning discounts range from 10 per cent to 25 per cent off, and the evening discounts offer up to 90 per cent off, depending on the store's reduction policy.
Why offer two discounts? This is purely down to profitability. If a supermarket were to put a whole chicken out on display at 90% off at 9 am, this would sell immediately, and the supermarket would have made an immediate loss. Reduce that chicken to 10% off first thing, and it's quite likely that someone coming into the store to buy a chicken for use that night will see the reduced item and buy that rather than paying the full price. The customer still makes a saving, the short-dated product has gone, and the supermarket has likely still made a profit on the sale, rather than losing as much money/profit, having reduced the price earlier.
If that chicken is still there when the final reduction time comes, the staff will then reduce the cost again, which will likely be snapped up by those bargain hunters looking for a great price on their grocery shopping and saving as much money as possible. The supermarket will still lose the money, but they've had the extra chance to clear that chicken at a higher cost and to save as much profit as possible!
At Morrisons, the first reduction is usually made on products dated for the next day, usually around 9 or 10 pm. These discounted items are put out either that night or the following morning, depending on how much is left on the shelf. Then, the "finals" discounts start at 5 pm the following day, with up to 90% off to clear any remaining items.
Different departments offer varying discounts, with products like ready meals, fresh meats, dairy, dips, coleslaw, pies, and pastries usually having a 90% discount. The store's automatic discount is 80%, but the store manager can increase it to 90% to clear excess products. Fruits and vegetables often have the most discounts and the highest chance of unsold items, so they are typically discounted by 90% to prevent wastage. Any remaining items might be placed into a "Too Good To Go Bag" for the next day.
Fresh bread and cakes usually have an 80% discount, except for speciality or "free from" bread, which often has a 90% discount. Meanwhile, butchery, delicatessen, and in-store bakery items usually have an 80% discount, which might increase to 90% if there is a larger number of goods to be reduced. I've had to reduce whole pallets of particular products due to excess stock or shorter-dated products being delivered, and if that's the case, they'll likely reduce earlier to avoid being left with stock that has to be thrown out later on.
Actually, a quick note on that, Morrisons don't actually throw unsaleable stock away as such. Food products are put into special food waste bags, and then this is then taken away by the delivery drivers, and this is taken to be used as fuel for energy production incinerators, and this is then turned into energy that can be used/sold so you won't find big bins full of food behind supermarkets, (in most cases), that food is taken away to be dealt with.
Don't be afraid to ask a member of staff about reduction times. I used to feel embarrassed to ask staff, as I felt like I was low life buying yellow sticker products, but the reality is that as more and more of us rely on these bargains to reduce our shopping bills, and stores need to make sure they keep food waste under control, so staff are generally more than happy to tell you the best time to find a reduced deal.
I've found that the best thing to do at local convenience stores is to ask about times, as I've found these to wildly differ from store to store, as they have different busy times to bigger stores, and so they may reduce their clearance items earlier or much later.
One of my big tips is not to shop alone. Most of the yellow stickers go out at the same time, in different areas of the store, and you can't be in two places at once! I used to take my daughter with me, and we would split up; I would head to the meats department, and she would go to the fruit and vegetable department. That way, when the bargains were put out, we would be able to grab items from both sections and avoid missing out or being swept up into a crush of people moving around the store!
Make a plan or shopping list before you head out, and try to stick to it. If you know you need meat and maybe potatoes, look for those, don't get over-excited and start grabbing whatever you see! Bulk buying can start increasing your costs, plus if you don't have adequate storage facilities, you may end up not being able to store/use the products before they are no longer edible, which is a waste of money, a waste of food, and also it means those people who needed that product more than you, missed out unnecessarily. It's only a good bargain if you actually use it!
It can be hard when it's busy to properly check over what you've been able to grab; it can literally be a scrum of people trying to get to the deals, but when you can, step back and properly check over the yellow sticker items you have selected. The products are normally in decent condition, but quality issues do get missed sometimes when the staff are busy, so it's a great idea to check the following:
Make sure that there is no obvious sign of mould on the product; it can happen.
Is the product sealed properly, don't buy anything where the seal is broken.
Smell the product. Does it smell ok? If not, then don't buy it.
Does it look ok? Is there any visible discolouration of the product? Some meats, such as beef, will actually go a bit brown; this is normal, it's just oxidization, but if you have a chicken breast that's off colour, or doesn't look right, then avoid it!
Look for blown packaging. This is when the bag or packaging of a product has an inflated effect, a bit like a balloon (so bulged up); this is a sign of decomposition and the presence of bacteria, and its potentially going to make you ill, so again, avoid this!
In the case of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as checking visually for any bruises etc. Give them a soft squeeze to make sure they're ok. I've handled many a fruit or veggie that looks fine, but a quick squeeze shows that the product is actually in poor condition inside and not edible!
With these tips, you can become a yellow sticker expert too, and can enjoy delicious reduced food, and lower your food bill!