Claudia Rowan

The supermarket meal deal: a perennial icon

The meal deal – the popular supermarket lunch package, comprising a main, snack, and drink – is much more than a triviality.

Simply packaged, ready-made, and deliciously effortless, the meal deal offers more than an easy, mindless lunch. The bargain lunch deal has become ingrained in the core being of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, and even Boots. There is a reason why the Facebook group, “Meal Deal Talk UK/EU” has over 35,000 members, and why it has been graced with 884 posts in the last 30 days. The group, which describes itself as a “close knit community where you can share your meal deal (MD) triumphs and tribulations in confidence”, boasts daily snapshots of its members’ chosen meal deal combinations, each which is rated by the eater, and then made subject to the (amusingly heartfelt) criticisms and congratulations of the group’s members.

It is evident, from the contents of this Facebook group and, indeed, from my own transformative experiences in the “food to go” aisle, that choosing the contents of a meal deal is an art form. Every tiny detail of the meal deal combination – from the flavour of your chosen smoothie, to the sandwich filling, to the brand of crisps bought (Tyrell’s, according to posts on the “Meal Deal Talk” group, is apparently indicative of class) – shapes the ultimate aesthetic and statement of your meal. The meal deal is, certainly, a “statement” – every element of the meal deal combination reflects the personality of the eater, as well as his/her eating habits. Indeed, many members of the “Meal Deal Talk” group take it upon themselves to offer detailed character analysis, based upon a simple meal deal choice. One meal deal post in the group – Mexican chicken pasta, flame-grilled McCoy’s, and a cherry Coca Cola – received the following brazen response: “I’m guessing you’re edgy for liking things red and spicy. Probably reads the Daily Star and blames immigration for poor health”. Evidently, a lot can be extrapolated from a simple meal deal choice.

The beauty of the supermarket meal deal goes beyond its cost-cutting potential and its bounteous selection of meal options.

The striking amount of choice offered by the meal deal package allows for the eater to cultivate a unique palette, fitting with one’s own culinary identity, all generally within a £3 budget. The meal deal option offered by Tesco, for example, enables the health-conscious consumer to uphold a carefully managed, plant-based, gluten-free, Instagram-friendly, healthy diet, without spending an entire day’s salary in Whole Foods. In this eater’s case, a salad, matched with a Naked smoothie and a fruit packet, might be an ideal meal deal combination. But the meal deal package also allows for the fulfilment of the diner on the other end of the health spectrum. In the case of the indulgent, carb-loving, sweet-toothed foodie, the combination of ham on white bread, paired with a Ribena and packet of prawn cocktail crisps, might just fill the gap.

Particularly relevant to the cost-conscious Oxford student is the meal deal’s dazzling ability to save money. Without the £3 meal deal offer, consumers might find themselves spending over £6 in the ‘food to go’ aisle – for example, by squandering £2.50 on a sandwich, 90p on a small packet of crisps, and £2.65 on a smoothie. With the meal deal option, however, the eater might save over £3; for the frugal university student, this bargain is ideal.

And, yet, the beauty of the supermarket meal deal goes beyond its cost-cutting potential and its bounteous selection of meal options. The very substance of the meal package allows for comfort and nourishment. On the part of the consumer, no culinary skills, time, or effort is necessary: the meal deal, with its simple, pre-made, ready-to-eat contents, takes care of everything. In choosing the meal deal option, the diner lazily allows himself to be catered for by the semi-maternal supermarket: the consumer’s only role lies in the selection and purchasing of the meal. Beyond this, it is the responsibility of the meal deal itself to feed and satisfy the supermarket shopper.

So, what does the future hold for the concept of the meal deal package? Will major fashion outlets and beauty retailers soon latch on to the idea – by including accessories in the price of a dress, perhaps? Whatever does happen to the meal deal, it is difficult to imagine the concept disappearing from supermarket shelves any time soon.