I have a passionate love/hate relationship with Essentials (or rather, the SU shop, but it will always be Essentials to me). In first year, when living on campus, the convenience of having a shop that close was fantastic, especially as the shops in town are too far away to grab anything quickly. The old Essentials in Parkwood (now closed) will always be special to me. It was almost a little too convenient during exam time, allowing for a short 30 second jaunt to cure cravings developed in 10 minutes of revision. After first year, Essentials is still the place to go to grab supplies for long study sessions in the library.
Despite all this, Essentials is not the most perfect store. Due to the lack of competition that keeps most other supermarkets prices lower, food and drink is almost always more expensive than the other shops in Canterbury. The Union claims that they strive to offer great value for money, but this is at best only partly true. The most basic essentials, such as milk and bread, are only slightly more expensive than supermarkets, but some differences can appear ridiculous. Alcohol is something to be avoided buying from there, even in desperate times, as the price disparity is massively high. This is most obvious with spirits, a student staple, and is perhaps just a ploy to get students to spend more money on something in high demand as it is so convenient.
Meal deals are offered, which is extremely convenient for students looking to grab an easy lunch whilst studying, but outside of that, the prices differences between certain items is obvious. The hot food, which is mostly unhealthy, is a much lower price than the healthier sandwiches that they offer. Unhealthy snacks are priced cheaper, with healthier snacks barely visible and often much more expensive. Although this is the case with most shops, the union should be more active in encouraging students to eat healthier, in order to help their mental and physical health.
The range of food offered is also questionable at times. Although the main Essentials is normally always stocked, the same cannot be said for the other Essentials out by Parkwood, or the new SU shop in Woodys. Trying to pick up bread from there, which is pretty essential, can often result no loaves of any kind. This means regular walks over to the main one, sometimes crippled by a hangover or some stress/party induced illness, also with the potential of there being no bread there either.
Although some aspects could be improved, Essentials fulfils a specific purpose in student life. As campus is situated so far out of town, there will always be a demand for a local shop, no matter the price increases. Studying is hard work and easy convenient food is always wanted. When in an urgent need for some essentials, or craving some snacks for studying, or need some emergency mixer, then Essentials will work perfectly. But expecting anything else out of it will just lead to disappointment, as it just isn’t worth it. Money can be better spent elsewhere.