Meal-deals, it turns out, have their fans. Not just the people who buy them and eat them, but those who take to the 200,000-member-strong Facebook group Meal Deal Talk to post their own drink-crisp-sandwich combo, and rate or berate the combos other members have uploaded. People there take their meal-deals seriously: it's not unusual to see someone called a paedophile for choosing a Robinson's Fruit Shoot.
So, unsurprisingly, the news yesterday that Sainsbury's is revamping its meal-deal has elicited some pretty strong responses. And for good reason: not only has the supermarket removed its Taste the Difference sandwiches – like the classic American Triple – from the meal deal range; it's also waved goodbye to cake bars and other interesting snacks, and introduced some bleak-looking sandwiches for its new "On the Go" branding.
Sainsbury's has tried to save face by claiming it's still got 115,000 possible meal-deal combinations, but that's 107,616 less than the amount of people in Meal Deal Talk, so really it's not all that impressive and the supermarket should just give up now and stop embarrassing itself.
To gauge what kind of ripples the news has caused among the Meal Deal Talk community, I gave founder Theo Edwards a ring and had a quick chat.
VICE: Hey Theo. So the news broke yesterday that Sainsbury's have changed their £3 meal deal – how does that make you feel?
Theo Edwards: I'm not really a Sainsbury's goer, but it was posted a lot on the group so I saw it. I'm pretty surprised by it; judging by everyone's comments I can see a lot of people are unhappy. Every post is about how annoyed people are about it. If I'm honest, I haven't had a Sainsbury's meal deal before, but I've heard some great things about it.
It seems the main change is that the sandwich selection has been cut to the most basic of fillings.
Yeah. Everyone used to be able to get subs and pasta, now it's just basic sandwiches. I honestly don't see why they'd introduce sandwiches like their new chicken-without-mayo one.
It's pretty grim. And obviously all their premium Taste the Difference sandwiches have gone, which is what made the deal such good value for money.
Well, that's the main thing about the meal deal – to save money and get as much food as you can. So it really doesn't make much sense.
Who should we be pointing fingers at? Sainsbury's? Brexit?
I think we have to blame Sainsbury's directly. There were a lot of supporters who liked their meal deal, so I think they've let themselves down.
Definitely. Sainsbury's responded to critics on Twitter by saying that they've made the bread softer and added "ambient snacking lines", whatever they atre. Is that enough to save their reputation?
No. No one's really going to care about softer bread when they buy their meal deals. They want what's inside of the bread. So if you're eating the chicken-with-no-mayo, it doesn't really matter – no one wants that. I just don't see why it's necessary to change the whole section completely. They could've added a "healthy section" to the Taste the Difference range and kept everyone happy, but they've shot themselves in the foot with this decision.
How do you think this shake-up will affect the market share between supermarkets in the Meal Deal group?
They had a lot of buyers, so I think they're all going to change. Why would you want to go to Sainsbury's when you can go somewhere like Boots and get a triple sandwich for the same price? Boots is my all-time favourite so far. I've had no problems. I'm always trying different things out there. You can get a meal deal for what would cost £7 if you bought the stuff individually, so that's one of the main things. You can also get a triple sandwich, which is always filled really well. I usually get the Naked Smoothie as well, which is £3 alone, and a pack of McCoy's crisps. You save a lot of money and it tastes good.
What's the future for the group?
I want to make a website for it. But we've also got a meet-up picnic on the 17th of September in Hyde Park, where people can meet the admins and we can discuss meal deals face-to-face. After the meet-up we have a charity event where we'll give out meal deals to the less fortunate.
Sounds great. Thanks, Theo!
More on VICE: