Food prices are eating into the family budget but the cost of Christmas dinner has fallen - thanks to cut-throat competition at the supermarkets.
Store wars and the rise of the basket-hopper shopper means a budget festive feast can be bought for three per cent less than last year - and served up for as little as £2.66 a head.
A price survey by Good Housekeeping magazine claims a traditional turkey meal for eight will cost as little as £21.31 for the canniest of shoppers.
Clearly its researchers hadn’t consulted the Sheffield-based food e-tailer Approved Foods. The company is the UK’s biggest online retailer of food and drink which is close to and past best-before dates.
In the next few weeks, families happy to leave it until the last-minute to stock up for Christmas will be snapping up five Advent calendars for £1, plum puddings at 70 per cent off, Christmas crackers at knockdown prices and Ferrero Rocher chocolates at £2 instead of £15.
“We’ve just run out of turkey roasting trays. We’ve sold 3,500 of them at 49p each. But we will have some amazing seasonal bargains coming in,” pledges Worksop’s Dan Cluderay, who set up the business from his garage after he and his wife Nicola found themselves among the 1,000 made redundant by Sony Telecom in 2001.
They relied even more heavily on the short-dated food Nicola’s father sold at car boot sales. And it gave former phone engineer Dan a business idea. He set up as a sole trader, but used his technical skills to create a stock monitoring system so he could work out which items from the stock he bought from food wholesalers sold best.
Says Dan, 40: “I must have been the only market trader selling bar-coded goods. The others thought I was daft but there was a huge difference in demand, even at markets just a few miles apart. The system helped me understand my customers and load up with the right stock. It is still in existence.”
His system worked so well he was able to set on staff and wholesale to other traders. He experimented with a small chain of shops but decided to trade via the Internet after realising it was the best way to find customers for the vast and ever-changing range of products he could lay hands on.
Approvedfoods.co.uk launched in 2008 to global media attention. Says Dan: “We even got contacted by TV stations in Japan; everyone wanted to know about this guy selling ‘old food’ in the UK at rock bottom prices and whether it was legal.”
Some products are close to their best-buy date but are still perfectly safe, though most are simply classed as ‘problem stock’ by the food manufacturers, he says.
“There is nothing wrong with what we sell. Mostly we get new lines that have failed to sell, products with a mistake on the packaging or are in an older packaging design. Last year we shifted 9.6 million items and the problems were so minimal we only needed one person on the customer service desk,” he explains.
The company sells just about anything it can lay hands on cheaply - barring frozen or chilled foods. Soap powder, toiletries, cleaning products, canned fruit and vegetables, sweets, drinks and gourmet treats are sold online at discounts from 50-70 per cent and dispatched within 48 hours. Delivery is £5.25 for 25kg of shopping with a minimum price of £15 (the website keeps a tally of the weight as the order progresses).
The average spend is £35 on goods that would normally sell at £70-80 and Dan reckons the stigma of buying cut-price food is over. His own family have saved thousands and one regular customer has worked out he has saved £10,000 in one year. “We are saving families all over the UK and Europe to save money on their weekly housekeeping - and helping companies keep their green credentials. Most of what we sell would otherwise go to landfill.”
Business has boomed to such an extent the company has had to triple its premises. In September it moved from North Anston into a 60,000 square foot warehouse off the Parkway, formerly occupied by Bookers Cash and Carry. Its new home at Parkway Close is easily accessible for local customers choosing its click & collect service - which eliminates a delivery charge.
It employs 50 and has now embarked on a recruitment drive and invested in new equipment.
Fellow director Andy Needham, said: “Increased demand meant we needed more space, more equipment and more people.”
The growth is thanks to a £70,000 loan from UK Steel Enterprise, a subsidiary of Tata Steel, and a further £180,000 from HSBC. UK Steel Enterprise has helped over 6,000 companies to date. Its new Equity Growth Fund will provide up to £1m of finance to rapidly-growing businesses which can create jobs.