Yellow sticker shopping tips with The Reduction Raider

Frugal foodie and food waste warrior Laura Gaga AKA The Reduction Raider tells us why yellow sticker food shopping is the way forward.

“Yellow sticker shopping transformed my way of shopping, cooking and eating.”

Laura Gaga is a civil servant from London who is passionate about eating well for less and avoiding food waste. For the past eight years, she has solely been buying discounted “yellow sticker” food from the reduced aisle in supermarkets. In 2015, she set up an Instagram account @reduction_raider1 to share her experiences of yellow sticker shopping. She also has a blog where she shares thrifty recipes and tips on how to get creative with what you have lying around. 

Can’t cook, won’t cook

Growing up in London in the 80s, Laura was as fussy an eater as they come. Her diet consisted of fish fingers, waffles and fizzy drinks. Things didn’t get much better when she went to university. Unable to cook, Laura relied on ready meals and takeaways to get by. “The idea of food waste wasn’t on my mind at all back then. I didn’t pay any attention to how much I was actually spending on food either,” she explains. 

Needs must 

It was only after university when Laura moved into her own flat that she – reluctantly – started cooking for herself. “When you live alone, you become completely responsible for your meals. I had no idea how to shop for one person, how to budget or what meals to make for myself,” says Laura. Spaghetti bolognese, shepherd’s pie and chilli con carne became her go-to dishes and she remained wary of trying new things. “I was still really fussy and I was adamant on following recipes to the letter,” she adds. 

A yellow sticker revelation

reduced yellow sticker items
Yellow sticker items are products that have been reduced in price because they are approaching their “use by” or “best before” date. Discounts range from a few pence to over 90% of the full price. 

Everything changed in 2011 when she sat down to have lunch with her work colleague Andy one day. “He brought in all this reduced food with yellow stickers on it. I didn’t even know that supermarkets reduced food at the end of the day. My mind was blown,” exclaims Laura. “Like most of us, I wanted to cut down my food bill so I started looking out for yellow stickers myself. I think the first thing I ever bought was a bag of donuts for 10p – it was such a buzz! I was on the phone to anyone who would listen, telling them about it,” she laughs. Before long, she was buying all her staples – fruit and veg, bread, meat and fish – from the reduced aisles too.

New ways of thinking

“To begin with, yellow sticker shopping was just about saving money, but over time, it transformed my relationship with food. Usually, when you go food shopping, you buy what you need to make a specific dish, but when you shop this way you’ve got to be more open-minded. “I’d think, right, this is what I’ve got – what can I make from it?” explains Laura. “With the internet, we’re lucky enough to have information at our fingertips. If I don’t have a specific ingredient, I’ll just Google a substitute.” One question Laura often gets asked is how to find the best-reduced items but she believes there is no secret trick, “You can’t go in with something specific in mind or you’ll just be disappointed.” 

Waste not 

Yellow-sticker shopping has also made Laura more mindful of wasting food. “Even when we have plenty of food in, we buy more and it ends up going to waste,” she says. “It’s about being creative with what you already have – really, there are no rules about what can and can’t go together.” Now following a vegan diet, Laura believes she is proof that you can have a well-rounded diet consisting of food that would otherwise have gone to waste. Indeed, looking at the recipes on her blog which feature exciting dishes such as peanut butter dal, white beet and leek burgers and rhubarb muffins, Laura doesn’t seem to be missing out in terms of nutrition or flavour. Plus, she’s saving pennies and saving the planet in the process. 

Laura’s savvy shopping tips:

Know what you’ve already got

Before you go food shopping, take stock of what’s in your fridge and cupboards so you think about how you can use it up before you go out and buy another bag of onions you don’t really need. 

The freezer is your friend

Most yellow sticker items can be frozen and used later. Research how to store different types of produce – milk, cheese, bread, leftovers and herbs can all be frozen. Be careful with meat and fish, however. 

Understand sell-by dates 

It’s easy to get confused between ‘best before’, ‘use by’ and ‘display until’ labels on food. ‘Best before’ refers to the quality of the product rather than how safe it is to eat, apart from eggs. ‘Display until’ labels aren’t of any use to the consumer, these are used to help with stock control. The ‘use-by date’ means the product should be used by the end of this date  – you should follow storage instructions on the packaging.

What is in season?