National Picnic Week: we rate the supermarket staples 

Outside picnic
Grab the outdoor opportunity Credit: Getty Images

The Great British weather being what it is, a picnic is often an impromptu affair. Homemade grub is the gold standard, but when the sun shines unexpectedly it’s a case of grabbing food from the shops and making for the nearest patch of grass. Cheese, ham, boxes of cherry tomatoes are all par for the (main) course, but a few ready-made dishes are in order too.

So how good is the stuff from the supermarket? I collected picnic staples from nine of the big players – Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Co-Op, Asda, Tesco, Aldi, Lidl and M & S – in a trolley dash. 

When the sun shines unexpectedly it’s a case of grabbing food from the shops and making for the nearest patch of grass

Scotch eggs were top of my list. While I have made my own in the past, it’s not something I’d bother with normally, what with fiddling around with deep frying. I picked up both premium and standard versions where available. Couscous salad is the new potato salad, so that went in the baskets (all nine of them) too, along with the essential pots of hummus. Pudding put me in a quandary – cake? fruit? – until a Twitter friend pointed out that she takes pots of chocolate mousse to dip strawberries in. So I looked for posh pots of chocolatey, trifley mousse, and bagged that too.

Last in was a quiche Lorraine, since a quiche takes a while to make given I stick firmly to the rule that the pastry needs blind baking before filling with eggy loveliness. The supermarkets clearly don’t agree, and all my samples suffered from undercooked pastry, made with palm oil – not the most delicious of fats, even without the environmental question mark.

And yes, I did check the ingredients lists – don’t we all these days? I was looking not just for phosphates and mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids, but ingredients that seemed to be in the wrong place – like cornflour in a couscous salad (Waitrose, Lidl and Aldi, I’m looking at you). I’ve added in the salient details to my round-up below.

For the tasting itself, a quick call out on Twitter gathered in a fine panel, so you don’t need to take just my word for the results. Bridget Cole, who works for herbal tea company Pukka Herbs, Kirsty Armstrong of Bibendum wines, and Romy Gill, star of Saturday Kitchen and chef patron of Romy’s Kitchen in Thornbury all worked stoically through the 50-plus items. 

Experts’ verdict: the best ready-made basics


Marks and Spencer Hummus with Extra Virgin Olive Oil  

“Love it!”, “Very smooth – could do with more texture”, “balanced flavour: a safe choice”. (£1/200g)

Marks and Spencer's Hummus is a 'safe choice'

Waitrose Hummus With Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

“Strong olive oil flavour, very citric.” (£1.40/200g)


The only one of our top three to include a preservative (potassium sorbate), this was declared “balanced” with a “nice nubbly texture, would be great with olive oil drizzled over”. (£1.25 /170g)

Quiche Lorraine


Our winner despite being made (like all of the quiches except Waitrose and M&S) using reformed bacon pieces. It was “the only one that doesn’t taste of raw pastry” and in spite of a “quite shallow filling” it had “good punchy flavour”. (£2/400g)

Tesco's Quiche Lorraine has a 'punchy flavour'


“Creamy filling but raw pastry flavour”, “looks appealing and tastes good too”. Extra kudos for being made with free-range eggs. (£2/400g) 

Scotch egg

Tesco finest*

“Moreish – but the egg is a bit of a rattler and it’s not free range”, “looks handmade, great flavours, moist and easy to eat”. (2 for £2)

The Tesco finest* scotch egg is 'moreish'

Marks and Spencer  Runny Scotch Egg 

“Gorgeous saucy yolk on the free-range egg and well-seasoned meat”, “good flavours but might drip on your T-shirt”. Meant to be served hot, but even cold this one impressed. (2 for £3.50)

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference

“Nice texture and good meaty flavour”, “nice crisp crumb but a bit dry – needs a pint!” However at the premium level we’d have expected a free-range egg. (£1.20 each)

Couscous salad

Asda Deli Roasted Vegetable Cousoncous

“Lots of cumin and a great chilli tingle at the end”, “loads of vegetables”. Extra points for having no preservative or thickener. (£2/280g)    

Asda's couscous earns extra points for not using preservatives

Marks and Spencer Moroccan Style Fruity Couscous 

“Sweet and gently spiced”, “moist with nice chewy raisins and cranberries”. Lost points for added preservative (E220) and thickener (rice flour). (£2/200g)

Waitrose Roasted Vegetable Couscous 

“Plenty of veg, but a too-soft texture”, “visually colourful and with pumpkin seeds”. But why add cornflour to a couscous salad? (£1.99/200g) 

Chocolate puds

Marks and Spencer Triple Chocolate Sundae  

“Rich chocolate flavour and crunchy topping”, “delicious, the brownie chunks taste good”. The most appealing ingredient list of all the puds, including free-range eggs. (£1.35/138g)

This delicious Marks and Spencer's chocolate Sundae uses free-range eggs

Waitrose Chocolate Brownie Sundae  

“Reasonable chocolate hit, light texture”, “pretty layers, more sweet than chocolatey”. Various added emulsifiers and stabilisers – but free-range eggs, too. (£1.20/125g)

Lidl Milbona Swirly Chocolate Sundae

“Properly trifly and very sweet”, “looks appetizing and quite chocolatey”, “brownie at bottom is not bad”. Includes free-range eggs and butter – impressive at this price.  (75p/140g)