Poverty marker? Bear Asda's yellow Just Essentials labels with pride in straitened times

My trolley positively glowed as I pushed it around Asda.

Mark Andrews with a trolley full of Just Essential products at Asda – costing just £22
Mark Andrews with a trolley full of Just Essential products at Asda – costing just £22

Piled high with the cheapest groceries the supermarket could muster, the garish yellow labels radiated luminescence, sticking out like a sore thumb as I navigated the aisles of tinned fruits and frozen meals.

If the controversial yellow packaging of Asda's new cut-price Just Essentials range is a "poverty marker", then I went around the store metaphorically wearing a poverty high-viz vest.

The supermarket giant has been accused of stigmatising the poor by giving its budget range distinctive packaging. I say what's new? Whoever is kicking up a stink about this has long forgotten the notorious Fine Fare Yellow Label products of the 1980s, with their grim stencil lettering. Now they did look stingy.

Mark Andrews filled a trolley for £22 from Asda's Just Essentials range

Asda reckons Just Essentials is the largest budget-friendly food range on the market, comprising 293 products, 50 larger than the Smart Price range it is replacing.

There are one or two omissions though. For example, the range includes raspberries, but not strawberries. It also seems odd that avocados – a bit cosmopolitan for my taste – are considered "Essentials", but carrots are not. There are no peas either, although you can still buy them in tinned form under the outgoing Smart Price label. And to be fair, Asda's regular own-brand carrots are not exactly going to bust the budget.

Now if you are looking for a gourmet experience, you are probably going to be disappointed. If you want your lamb cooked in a red-wine jus, or a steak-and-craft-ale pie, you are going to have to stump up for the premium range. Just Essentials is a strictly no-frills product line.

On the other hand, with one or two exceptions, the food tends to be much healthier than the more luxurious ranges, with less salt and fat. Even the sausages, burgers and mini-cheesecakes have only green and amber ratings under the traffic lights systems, although some of the pies were were a little heavy in saturated fat.

WOLVERHAMPTON PIC MNA PIC DAVID HAMILTON PIC EXPRESS AND STAR 17/08/22 MARK ANDREWS STORY Items from Asda's new budget range, at ASDA, Wolverhampton..

It seems some of the product lines are also victims of their own success – most of the ready meals had sold out, there was only one pack of pies in the freezer, and the Just Essentials minced beef had sold out, but the more expensive varieties were in plentiful supply.

Don't expect every item to be a bargain. If you want some orange juice, you are forced to opt for the less healthy "from concentrate", and at 44p for three 150ml cartons it is not particularly good value when compared to, say, Aldi.

The canned chicken chunks in white sauce did not look particularly appealing on opening, but were actually quite pleasant, and excellent value for £1.15. The sauce was too thick, though – it had to be scraped out of the tin with a fork.

The white potatoes were good, if anything slightly better than those from the more mainstream ranges, with a light, fluffy texture, and very good value for 99p.

Similarly, there was very little to distinguish the apples from those bought anywhere else, and the raspberries were pleasant and fresh. The wholemeal bread tasted like, well, wholemeal bread, a touch stodgy but perfectly palatable. The dairy spread could have done with a bit more flavour, though.

WOLVERHAMPTON PIC MNA PIC DAVID HAMILTON PIC EXPRESS AND STAR 17/08/22 MARK ANDREWS STORY Shopping for items from Asda's new budget range, Mark Andrews, at ASDA, Wolverhampton..

The strawberry mini-cheesecakes did not have any fruit on top, but were instead covered with a jam, which they would probably have been better without. Nevertheless, they were perfectly pleasant and good value at three for £1.

Many of the items in the range are not entirely new, some being carried forward from the old Smart Price line. Indeed, there was a mixture of Smart Price and Just Essentials brown sauce bottles on the shelves, both clearly identical and selling for the same price.

One suspects none of the products are going to capture Gordon Ramsay's imagination, but they are all perfectly acceptable for everyday living, and will no doubt prove popular with cost-conscious customers in these straitened times.

Is Just Essentials a "poverty marker"?

Well if it is, I would suggest it is one customers can wear with pride. I managed to fill a trolley to produce enough meals – admittedly rudimentary ones – to last a week, all for the princely sum of £22. Wanting to get the most for your money is nothing to be ashamed of.

Not such good value though were the three 'bags for life' for which I paid 20p each. Two of them had disintegrated before I had even got the food home. Maybe it's time to introduce a Just Essentials line of those.

£22 goes a long way with Asda Just Essentials – shame about the disintegrating bags though

Mark's shopping list

  • 5.5lbs (2.5kg) white potatoes 99p

  • Three cartons of orange juice 44p

  • Cottage pie ready meal £1.35

  • Three mini cheesecakes £1

  • Four toilet rolls £1.90

  • Brown sauce 56p

  • Dairy spread 83p

  • Wholemeal bread 39p

  • Chunks of chicken breast £1.80

  • Natural yogurt 45p

  • Four green apples 65p

  • Six gala apples 90p

  • Four potato pops 72p

  • Four pears 45p

  • Tinned pineapples 80p

  • Chicken in white sauce £1.15

  • Raspberries £1.49

  • Four minced beef and onion pies £1.10

  • Beef slices in gravy 90p

  • Sausages £1.21

  • Mushrooms 50p

  • Stewed steak £1.82

  • Three bags for life 60p

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