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Voices: The meal-deal change that’s a damning indictment of modern Britain

Who in their right mind would pick yoghurt as the main bit of a lunchtime meal deal? (PA)
Who in their right mind would pick yoghurt as the main bit of a lunchtime meal deal? (PA)

Ernest Hemingway was a master when it came to economy of language. He once wrote a story that was only six words long, and it is often considered one of the saddest short stories in the English language, managing to encapsulate the universal themes of loss, grief, and class injustice in just one short sentence.

Here it is, presented in its entirety: “Yoghurts now class as a main.”

Sorry, hold on, I got mixed up. That’s actually a sign that somebody spotted in the fridge section of Sainsbury’s that went viral on Twitter/X yesterday, announcing that the supermarket will no longer allow customers to purchase both a sandwich and a yoghurt as part of its meal deal. Baby shoes, eat your heart out.

Now to be fair, the change from snack to main-course item only applies to larger pots of yoghurt, which come with a side of granola. But, personally, that feels like splitting hairs. I have yet to encounter a real human person who would honestly say: “No large yoghurt for me, I’d better take the smaller one instead – I don’t want to get too full.”

If there was ever a clearer sign of social decline, I’d like to see it. Yoghurts as a main? Are we animals? Why are we being treated like animals? A man cannot subsist on Muller Corners alone. No, not even if you throw in a bag of Walkers and a Coke and charge £3.50 all in.

Back when I used to work in the real world, instead of over the internet, meal deals were a real lifeline. A prawn sandwich, a Fanta and a packet of cheese and onion McCoy’s helped get me through some of the most soul-crushing labour I’ve ever performed. It was a good system, and I really don’t see a need to change it, especially when people are more likely than ever to be on the lookout for quick, filling snack options.

There’s a famous story about how the American superstore chain Costco has sold hotdogs for the same price – $1.50 – since 1985. The $1.50 hotdog has defied decades of inflation and has become a core part of the shop’s branding. When told that the company was losing money by selling the item at such a low price, CEO Jim Sinegal simply replied: “If you raise the f***ing hotdog, I will kill you. Figure it out.” That’s a man who understands that when it comes to pleasing your customers, money isn’t always everything.

By trying to pass yoghurts off as a main, Sainsbury’s has, metaphorically, raised the price of the f***ing hotdog. It’s a small thing, but it’s the kind of thing your customers are going to notice, and view as a betrayal – especially when big companies are still raking in huge profits while the rest of us struggle to heat our homes. The last thing people want to be told right now is that they’re having another small comfort taken away from them, likely by a board of men whose suits cost more than their customer’s annual rent.

Some Twitter/X users have taken the predictable contrarian stance of arguing that, ac-tu-al-ly, offering yoghurts as a main encourages people to think more healthily about their food choices. To them I say: if I wanted to be healthy, I simply would not be getting a meal deal in the first place. A meal deal is about getting cheap, dirty fuel into the broken-down rental car that is my body – not making smart, health-conscious choices. Also, I am not a child, and do not need to be “encouraged” to eat certain foods by a megacorporation, dad.

I’d be surprised if Sainsbury’s doesn’t back down over the backlash and restore the meal deal to its former glory. They’d probably earn a few brownie points with people if they did. Then again, if they hold out long enough, they’ll probably wear us down, as we all accept the dystopian new normal where a yoghurt is supposedly as satisfying as a chicken and stuffing sandwich. After all, what am I going to do, make my own lunch?