Exceedingly expensive: Branded food soars by up to 130%, as Which? calls for supermarkets to act

Some branded food and drink products at the supermarket have more than doubled in price in the last 12 months, Which? has found, as the consumer champion calls on these major retailers to help struggling shoppers by stocking budget range alternatives in smaller stores.

In July, the consumer champion analysed the prices of almost 26,000 food and drink products for its food inflation tracker at eight major supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – to see how individual product prices are being affected.

This month, Which? focused on branded products, which despite having a lower rate of inflation year on year (12.2%) than supermarket own brand standard ranges (14.6%) and budget ranges (24.3%), tend to cost more overall.

To guide supermarkets in taking the very important step of stocking essential budget-line items in supermarket convenience stores, Which? is today launching a set of key tests. This will ensure that major supermarkets – especially those with the most convenience stores in the UK such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s – not only stock budget ranges but that these items are wide-ranging to include healthy products, affordable as well as consistently available and easy to spot in store.

Branded snack foods saw the largest increases overall according to Which?’s latest inflation tracker. The branded product with the single largest price increase year on year was Mr Kipling Chocolate Slices 6 pack at Tesco, which went from £1.16 on average in 2022 to £2.66 in July 2023 – a shocking increase of £1.50 or 129 per cent. Similarly Mr Kipling Bakewell Cake Slices x6 at Sainsbury’s went from £1.38 to £2.75 an increase of £1.37 or 99 per cent.

At Asda, it was a branded yoghurt that saw the worst year-on-year inflation, with Lancashire Farm Natural Yogurt 1kg and Lancashire Farm Fat Free Natural Yogurt 1kg going from £1 to £1.80 – a hike of 80 per cent.

Meanwhile at Morrisons, Pilgrims Choice Extra Mature Grated Cheddar 180g and Pilgrims Choice Sliced Extra Mature Cheddar 150g both went from £1.20 to £2.11 a hike of 76 per cent.

All food prices have been impacted by the increased cost of animal feed, fertiliser and fuel as well as energy and labour costs but there have also been poor harvests, bird flu and a weaker pound compounding the issue.

Which?’s tracker found that year-on-year supermarket food inflation has dipped, this time from 15.4 per cent in the one month to the end of June to 13.8 per cent for the one month to the end of July.

However, when Which? looked at the rate of inflation over two years, it was 25.6 per cent in the three months to the end of July 2023 compared with the same period in 2021 – more closely reflecting changing prices since cost of living pressures emerged.

There were notable falls in inflation for products like milk and butter that have been subject to well-publicised price cuts in recent months. The rate of inflation of butter and spreads in July was 6.3 per cent compared to 10.9 per cent in June and 14.1 per cent for milk in July compared to 19 per cent in June.

However, in both cases, prices are still significantly higher compared to what shoppers were paying before the cost of living crisis, showing the challenge many shoppers are still facing to afford everyday essentials.

Even with inflation slowing, food prices are expected to remain high for the rest of the year according to the Bank of England, with speculation from its chief economist that prices will never return to pre-pandemic levels. This means huge pressure for millions, especially families and people on low incomes who have struggled to cope with rising costs month after month.

Which? knows the importance of budget ranges to help people save money in tough economic times. The consumer champion’s previous research found that two thirds (67%) of consumers feel that supermarkets are ripping people off with convenience store prices and nearly half (45%) of people struggle to find affordable food in convenience stores. Over half (57%) of people agreed that more budget ranges in convenience stores would help them.

In July, the Competition and Markets Authority also highlighted that consumers relying on convenience stores – which it agreed were more expensive – cannot adequately benefit from competition to the full extent of those with access to large supermarket stores.

Which? has been calling on the big supermarkets that also operate convenience stores – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – to stock essential budget range items in smaller stores and has today launched key tests for them to show that they are willing to do this in a way that will make a difference.

The criteria, prioritising those in need, reinforces the need for supermarkets to stock their convenience stores with a range of budget items that include items which support a healthy diet such as tinned, frozen or fresh fruit and vegetables and other staple foods needed to make healthy meals.

Morrisons has already begun to roll out budget lines in its convenience stores, setting an example for others to follow and showing that major supermarkets do have the ability to make a simple change which will make a huge difference to the people most in need who rely on smaller stores.

Tesco has also announced that it will be introducing cheaper own brand range items in convenience stores. Which? believes this is a significant step in the right direction and will save their customers money. However, the product examples given are not the cheapest option the retailer stocks. Which? is calling for all supermarkets’ convenience stores to provide products from their budget ranges as these are generally much cheaper than supermarket own brands.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:

“The scale of price hikes to some branded products at the supermarket over the last 12 months is barely believable and highlights the huge pressure faced by shoppers, especially families and those on low incomes.

“With food prices expected to remain high for the rest of the year, Which? is calling on supermarkets to ensure expensive convenience stores are stocked with a range of budget items that support a healthy diet – and setting key tests that they can work towards to show they are willing to make a meaningful difference for their customers most in need.”


Notes to editors: 

Which? Affordable Food For All Campaign

The consumer champion’s Affordable Food For All campaign calls on supermarkets to do more to ensure own-brand budget line items are widely available throughout all branches – including in smaller ‘convenience’ stores. They should also make pricing and offers more transparent.

Almost 110,000 supporters have signed Which?’s petition so far calling on the supermarkets to take action.

Alongside the University of Leeds Consumer Data Research Centre, Which? has developed the Priority Places For Food Index which shows where in the UK people are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Budget Range Benchmark 

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons should urgently stock budget line items across their convenience stores, prioritising areas most in need. These should be:

  • Wide-ranging: Have a sufficient range of essential budget items on offer that supports a healthy diet.
  • Affordable: Prices that make a real difference to people’s pockets
  • Easy to find: Consistently available and easy to spot in store

Acess to budget ranges is essential for consumers due to high food inflation

Food prices are expected to remain high for the rest of the year as people continue to struggle. This means they will continue to put huge pressure on millions of families and people on low incomes who have struggled to cope with rising costs month after month. It also makes access to budget ranges more important than ever to help people save money.

People can’t access budget ranges in convenience stores

Which? research in April 2023 found that budget range items are rarely, if ever, on sale in smaller branches. Supermarkets can take meaningful action to help customers who rely on more expensive convenience stores by ensuring they stock a range of budget products that support a healthy diet.

Consumers want budget ranges in convenience stores

The consumer champion’s previous research found that two thirds (67%) of consumers feel that supermarkets are ripping people off with convenience store prices and nearly half (45%) of people struggle to find affordable food in convenience stores. Over half (57%) of people also agreed that more budget ranges in convenience stores would help them with the cost of living.

Retailers are able to stock budget ranges in convenience stores

Morrisons has already said it is in the process of introducing 10 budget line items to 500 convenience stores nationwide, with a further 30 items being rolled out in September.

Which? is calling on retailers to stock budget ranges in convenience stores

We’re launching our Budget Ranges Benchmark to track which supermarkets are hitting the mark and stocking more affordable budget range essentials that support a healthy diet in convenience stores, particularly in areas most in need. This change could make a real difference to people’s pockets and household budgets.

Which?’s calls are supported by a broad alliance of organisations and individuals

Which? and the Food Foundation have brought together a group of cross-party MPs and Peers, NGOs and academics, calling on supermarkets to take urgent action to help consumers in the cost of living crisis. Supermarkets must listen to growing pressure for action on budget ranges.

Labour backs budget lines in convenience stores

Last month, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves urged the government, regulators and supermarkets to work together to make budget lines available in small stores in areas of high priority need. In a visit to Scarborough, she said:

 “Many of us see adverts for low price products, but when you go to the shops they’re not always there. And unless you have a car or can get working public transport, it’s not easy for lots of people to go to a big supermarket regularly”

“That’s why it is vital government take action, and work with the regulator and supermarkets to make sure smaller stores are selling budget lines.”

Which? supermarket food and drink inflation tracker

As part of its Affordable Food For All campaign, Which? launched a new monthly tracker in December which tracks tens of thousands of products across eight major supermarkets. The tracker shows rates of inflation overall as well as by supermarket, product category and range.

Which? will be publishing this data each month in order to showcase how inflation is really hitting customers and putting pressure on the supermarkets to do a better job of supporting customers to keep food on the table during the worst cost of living crisis in over 40 years.

Inflation is a measure of how quickly prices are rising or falling and not of absolute price. The supermarkets with the highest inflation may also be the cheapest.

Which?’s tracker looks at 20 popular categories of food and drink at eight supermarkets — Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. It compares average prices across the same three-month and one-month periods year-on-year, including discounts but not multibuys or loyalty card offers. Figures are then weighted based on supermarket market share and the sales volume of each product category.

To see how these high levels of inflation on value ranges are affecting specific products on supermarket shelves Which? looks at a three-month average – in this case from May to July 2023 – and compares it year on year. This time around, Which? has also compared it over two years.

While some minor price variation may exist due to different prices at different stores across the country and sampling techniques, Which? is confident this is unlikely to impact overall averages and inflation figures. Every month, Which? offers supermarkets the opportunity to comment on their own products with the highest inflation.

Previous Which? research

Trust in supermarkets drops to a nine-year low as shoppers feel ripped off, Which? research finds

Soaring food prices having a detrimental impact on mental health, Which? Finds

Inconvenient truth: supermarket giants failing to stock budget ranges in smaller stores, Which? reveals

Right of replies

Supermarkets were contacted to verify the prices of their specific products. Several provided the consumer champion with a response to these figures (this response may not reflect their view of the whole story).

An Ocado spokesperson said:

“At Ocado, everything we do starts with our customers and we know how important value is to them right now. We continue to support our customers by investing in price across branded and own-brand products. We’ve also recently introduced the Ocado Price Promise so customers can be sure they’re getting great value.”

A spokesperson for Tesco said:

“It is important that shoppers are properly informed when deciding what to buy, so we are disappointed that Which? has chosen to highlight Dale Farm skimmed milk, a product only available in Northern Ireland. We have pointed out to Which? that to include this locally-stocked product would be misleading to the majority of their readers.”

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