Alex Maxam investigates the figures behind the ‘World’s Best Meal Deal’.
Meal deals – the staple of budget lunching.
Where would office workers be without the ability to nip down to the local Tesco and pick up a filling, rounded lunch? How would those in retail do without the local Greggs’ meal deal offering? Okay, so they could very well just have a packed lunch, but where’s the fun in that? Countrywide, everyone loves a meal deal and we’ve all got an opinion on which is the best.
The University has opened up an extra SU Store on campus. This is more with the purpose of fulfilling the needs of lunch-eating students, with an emphasis on meal deals. In fact, they’ve gone one further than just opening up a store to focus on providing meal deals, they have claimed that their’s is “Probably The World’s Best Meal Deal”.
But is it?
When it comes to deciding the standard of a meal deal, there are different items of criteria to help rate the meal deal. Firstly, there is value. Is it much of a reduction in price? Are you getting more than your money’s worth? Does it really qualify as a “deal”?
Alongside value, there is variety. Do you have a good selection of items to choose from? Can you go for any extravagant combinations? Is there enough for you to be able to switch it up at your leisure? Quality is also a very important piece of criteria. Is the food good? Are you going to enjoy the meal deal, or just eat it out of necessity? Has much care gone into the handmade mains?
So value, variety and quality are the three main items of criteria for judging a meal deal. Before we begin passing judgment on the stores and their meal deals, let us just make clear the meal deal benchmark. A standard meal deal costs £3 and offers a main, a snack and a drink. Mains usually consist of a sandwich or wrap, snacks tend to be crisps or chocolate, and a drink is commonly a soft drink, juice or water. Now we’ve got that all cleared up, let’s crack on!
Back to “Probably The World’s Best Meal Deal”. Costing you £3.50, you can get a wrap, bagel, roll, baguette or sandwich as a main. For your snack, you can get some crisps, fruit or a yoghurt. As for the drinks, you have the choice of a limited range of soft drinks that includes Pepsi, a few flavours of Tango and a 7UP among a few others.
How does this do for value? Well, it sets you back £3.50, 50p more than your standard meal deal pricing. Not a great start. In terms of the combined cost of the individual items, the mains vary from £2.25 to £3.25, the snacks are around 80-90p and the drinks cost something in the region of £1.40-£1.50. So you could potentially get a meal deal worth £5.65 for £3.50. That sounds good on paper, but does it stand up to scrutiny?
Not really, is the answer.
“So in truth, the individual items only add up to a high amount because they’re significantly expensive in their own right.”
A “luxury wrap” costs £3.25. This is one whole pound above the standard pricing for a wrap at the very least. Sandwiches, which are frequently found for about £2 or below in other places such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s and One Stop, cost £2.25. Baguettes and sub rolls cost £2.95, which is again at least 60p more than you’d pay in somewhere like Tesco. So in truth, the individual items only add up to a high amount because they’re significantly expensive in their own right.
This doesn’t compare to stores such as Tesco and One Stop with their meal deal offerings. For instance, at Tesco you could pay £3 for a Chicken and Bacon sub roll (worth £2.35), Walkers Chilli Sensations (75p) and a Coke Zero (£1.25) that would be worth £4.35 in total. Okay, so that is over £1 less, but the individual prices are much more in line with the standard pricing for such items. The maximum worth of a Tesco meal deal is £5.35. At One Stop, it is even better. You can buy a Rustlers burger (£2), Mattessons Fridge Raiders (£1.40) and a large can of Red Bull (£1.69) for £3, nearly half of the combined price of the items (£5.09). Again, these are items being sold at or below their standard pricing.
Now, on to quality – are you getting what you pay for?
In my opinion, it is a resounding no. The “luxury wraps” are merely a luxury in terms of price. The ‘wrap bread’ is too plastic-y and there is a bit too much of it. As for the fillings, not only are they dwarfed by the taste of the ‘wrap bread’, but they’re also fairly tasteless at times. The chicken tikka wrap could potentially be a great wrap, but it lacks flavour and again is overwhelmed by the overall dryness of the wrap, caused by the wrap bread itself. I have to admit, when I tried it I was more disappointed with it than my parents are with me for spending my time at University writing about meal deals.
Compare these wraps to the Chicken and Bacon Caesar wraps at the Co-op… no, wait, there is literally no comparison. Those wraps are in a league of their own. You cannot buy a better pre-made wrap than that. But guess what?! It’s cheaper! Yes, Co-op wraps are £2.80 – 45p less than those at the SU Store. That’s still a fairly expensive wrap, costing you about 40p more than the standard pricing, but you really get what you pay for. However, you can’t really say that about the “luxury wraps” at the SU Store.
As for the sub rolls, in other places they are always a reliable pick but here they are just far too bread heavy. Not enough filling, too much bread. Compared to the significantly cheaper sub rolls at Tesco, where there are certainly more potent flavours and a better balance of bread and filling, the SU store subs even look shoddy. The baguettes are a bit better and are definitely my preferred option of the two, though the bread can be a bit tough in places which doesn’t exactly create the most enjoyable eating experience. However, the baguettes are pretty unique in meal deal circles, so that’s something for the SU Store and their ‘meal deal’.
“The sandwiches aren’t great. Underwhelming isn’t even the half of it. In fact, they’re like two slices of underwhelming with a deep filling of disappointment.”
The sandwiches aren’t great. Underwhelming isn’t even the half of it. In fact, they’re like two slices of underwhelming with a deep filling of disappointment. For a lot of the sandwiches, it just feels like there is nowhere near enough filler in them. They’re a reasonable size, but they just do not pack any kind of punch whatsoever. The Coronation Chicken sandwich could be a great little number, but it felt like you could find more chicken in a vegan restaurant than in that sarnie. With some great sandwiches like Pork & Stuffing, Pulled BBQ Beef and Tuna Crunch being found in Co-op and Tesco, your sandwich game needs to be strong in order to compete. Unfortunately, the SU Store just isn’t competing at the moment, especially considering the greater expense for their meal deal.
I can’t pretend the other stores are perfect though. One Stop seriously lack in the hand-made department, with their sandwiches and wraps not being particularly amazing. Their strength when it comes to the mains really lies in the packaged items – such as the Walls slices. Co-op do have a slightly more expensive meal deal than standard at £3.25, although you would half expect that given Co-op’s target market. From what I’ve tried, Asda and Sainsbury’s sandwiches aren’t exactly going to blow your world away. It’s just that the SU Store’s mains are so expensive and – for the most part – underwhelming, which really harms their meal deal quality rating especially when you can get so many better alternatives for cheaper.
Finally – variety.
“The variety in snacks isn’t awful, with yoghurts an interesting and healthy option, but the lack of any chocolate option is a glaring omission.”
This is another category where the SU Store cannot exactly pride itself in. In terms of its mains, there are definitely some interesting flavours out there. However, the problem with this is that you will often see these flavours repeated throughout the mains. But what is good with the mains, is that there are so many different options (sub rolls, baguettes, sandwiches, wraps, bagels), which isn’t too common in other meal deals. Tesco and One Stop are the only stores which can really match this variety in meal deal mains. The variety in snacks isn’t awful, with yoghurts an interesting and healthy option, but the lack of any chocolate option is a glaring omission. It is about level with Tesco in snack variety, but is blown out of the water by One Stop, who easily boast the best snack variety of any mainstream meal deal outlet. As for the drinks, there is a sub-par level of variety. Very select soft drinks are available in the meal deal, which pales in comparison to both Tesco and One Stop. Even Sainsbury’s and Co-op. All of which offer a vast range of drinks from Innocent and San Pellegrino to Red Bull.
So, is the SU Store’s meal deal “Probably The World’s Best Meal Deal”?
Absolutely not. It’s not even the best meal deal within a mile radius. Maybe in a world of service stations it may come close to being the world’s best meal deal, but thankfully for us all – that world does not exist. Okay, so I know “Probably The World’s Best Meal Deal” sentiment may not be intended in complete seriousness, but I feel to make a statement like this there has to be even the slightest element of truth behind it. It’s too untrue to even be classed as shanter! The line was even being used when part of the meal deal was £3.95! When there are so many great meal deals in the world, it just doesn’t sit right with me that something so far away from the truth is being labelled in that way. By all means try out the meal deal, after all there isn’t a great amount of locations to buy food on campus and you may even find you like it. But don’t even let the thought of it being the world’s best meal deal enter your head. I can’t think of any greater food-related injustice.
No, not even Bake Off moving to Channel 4 matches that.
Alex Maxam’s Meal Deal Tip – Don’t want to be a part of the system? Do you want to control what you think is a meal deal, and not have it dictated to you by a store? Try out this cheeky little combination, found at Tesco. 8 deli counter chicken nuggets/cod bites (depending on preference) (£1), 6 soft white rolls (65p), Mars Bar (60p), can of soft drink (70p) – £2.95 in total, cheaper than a typical meal deal!