Everyday family meals have increased by over a quarter in the last 12 months as some essential ingredients double in price, according to new figures from Which? that show despite generally being the cheapest option, inflation on value ranges far outstrips other foods.
The consumer champion found some popular family meals such as pasta bake, fish fingers, chips and beans and homemade spaghetti bolognese are among the dishes that have increased by up to 27 per cent over the course of the year.
In May, Which? analysed the prices of almost 26,000 food and drink products for its inflation tracker at eight major supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – to see how everyday product prices are being affected.
For a real impression of what households are facing when planning their mealtimes, Which? looked at the price of the ingredients needed for some everyday favourites for a family of four, including a three-ingredient pasta bake, a spaghetti bolognese, a fish finger supper and a Sunday roast chicken.
For the quick pasta bake for four people, Which? analysed the prices of jars of pasta sauce, packs of penne pasta and cheddar cheese and found that across the supermarkets the average cost of the meal had gone from £2.68 (67p per portion) in the three months to the end of May 2022 to £3.39 (85p per portion) for the same period 12 months later – an increase of 27 per cent.
When Which? looked at a regular fish finger supper with chips and beans, it found the overall price went from £3.06 (76p per portion) to £3.79 (95p per portion) – an increase of 24 per cent. This was mainly driven by baked beans which went up by an average of 36 per cent, although there were some baked beans that went up far more than this. HP Baked Beans in a Rich Tomato Sauce (415g), for example, went from 54p to 95p at Asda – a hike of 77 per cent.
Frozen chips saw one of the biggest average increases on Which?’s shopping list, at 23 per cent, with some varieties doubling in price. Own brand French Fries (900g) were up from 83p to £1.75 at Sainsbury’s, an increase of 110 per cent. A similar item at Lidl – Harvest Basket French Fries (900g) – went up 99 per cent from 68p to £1.35 during that same time period.
For households who prefer to cook from scratch, Which? also looked at a standard spaghetti bolognese recipe which included beef mince, onion, carrots, stock, garlic, chopped tomatoes and dried spaghetti, as well as olive oil to cook with. The meal went up from £5.53 on average (£1.38 per portion) in the three months to the end of May 2022 to £6.63 (£1.65 per portion) for the same period in 2023, or an extra 20 per cent on average across the eight supermarkets.
Some of the key ingredients saw much bigger increases, however, with own label beef mince 4% fat 500g going from £2.89 at Tesco to £4.60 – an increase of 59 per cent.
Which? also looked at a typical Sunday lunch of roast chicken, potatoes, peas, broccoli, carrots and gravy as well as vegetable oil to cook with. It found that while it was the most expensive overall, the increase was 13 per cent – the smallest of the meals included in Which?’s analysis. For a family of four the overall average across the supermarkets in 2022 was £6.43 (£1.61 per portion) increasing to £7.28 (£1.82 per portion).
While vegetable oil (43%) and chicken gravy granules (40%) stood out as having large increases across the supermarkets when Which? looked at individual products, own label Asda Frozen for Freshness Garden Peas 1kg surged from 76p to £1.33 – an increase of 74 per cent over the course of 12 months.
These examples of massive price hikes on some of the everyday ingredients needed to make a basic meal show how difficult it is, particularly for customers on low incomes, to feed a family as many items become increasingly unaffordable.
Which?’s findings come as the government is actively discussing how supermarkets can help consumers. Next week’s official inflation figures are set to show food prices remaining at an elevated level. For the first time since February, overall inflation on food and drink fell below 17 per cent to 16.5 per cent in the one month to the end of May 2023 compared to the same period the previous year. However, in May 2022, inflation had already risen by 5.1 per cent since May 2021.
According to Which?’s tracker, own label budget goods showed no sign of slowing down, soaring from 25 per cent in April to 26.6 per cent in May. By contrast regular own brands (19.1%), premium own brands (12.9%) and branded (13.2%) food and drink all slowed month on month.
While supermarket own brand budget products are still usually the cheapest available, the scale of these price increases demonstrates how low-income shoppers are being hit hard by soaring inflation. To make matters worse, Which? previously found that these value ranges are rarely sold in smaller convenience stores despite two-thirds (66%) of people with a household income under £21,000 shopping in these stores at least once a week.
While the whole food supply chain affects prices, Which? strongly believes supermarkets could do much more to help the people who are struggling the most in the face of rampant food price increases by ensuring that smaller convenience stores stock a range of essential budget lines that support a healthy diet, especially in areas where they are most needed.
Supermarkets also need to commit to clearer unit pricing, especially on promotions and loyalty card offers, so that people can easily work out which products offer the best value.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:
“The cost of food during this period of economic uncertainty has turned the pleasure of mealtimes with loved ones into a nightmare for the millions that are struggling to afford food.
“Supermarkets must put their customers first by stocking budget lines in all of their stores, including convenience stores, to ensure easy access to basic, affordable food ranges as well as provide transparent pricing so people can easily work out which products offer the best value.
“Official Inflation data due out next week is still expected to show food prices at an elevated level, if supermarkets can’t do the right thing by their customers, it’s time for the government to take action.”
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.
Over 88,000 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.
This month Which? chose four everyday dishes including a three ingredient pasta bake, a fish finger supper, a basic spaghetti bolognese recipe and a roast dinner with potatoes, vegetables and gravy to see how inflation is impacting everyday ingredients needed for mealtimes. Which? looked at the average price of ingredients in the three months to May 2023 compared with the average price from the same period a year earlier, to see how the cost of these had changed over the past year.
The ingredients Which? looked at are listed below:
- Basic pasta bake recipe – jar of pasta sauce, penne pasta and cheddar cheese
- Fish finger supper – Fish fingers, chips, and beans
- Spaghetti bolognese – Tinned tomatoes, beef mince, onion, carrots, garlic, beef stock, olive oil and spaghetti
- Roast chicken dinner – Chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage peas, chicken gravy granules and vegetable oil.
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? also looks at a three-month average – in this case from March–May 2023 – and compares it year on year.
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.
Right of replies
Supermarkets were contacted to verify the prices of their specific products used in the family meal analysis. Several provided the consumer champion with a response to these figures (this response may not reflect their view of the whole story).
Tesco and Sainsbury’s declined to comment.
An Asda spokesperson said: “All supermarkets have been impacted by global inflationary pressures which has increased the price of key ingredients. We’re working hard to keep prices in check for customers and we remain the lowest-priced major supermarket – a position recognised by Which? in their regular monthly basket comparison, naming Asda as the cheapest supermarket for a big shop every month for the last three years. We’ve recently locked the price of over 500 popular branded and own-label products until the end of August, to give customers more control over what they spend each week.”
A Lidl spokesperson said: “We’re committed to always offering our customers the best value and are proud that multiple independent price comparisons, including those conducted by Which?, continue to show that a basket of shopping at Lidl is consistently lower than at other supermarkets.”
A Morrisons spokesperson said: “This is an unprecedented period of inflation and we are working hard to keep prices down and competitive for our customers while maintaining high standards and availability in all our stores. This year we have announced a number of price cuts which have seen the prices of thousands of products lowered as we remain committed to doing all we can to help when it comes to the cost of grocery shopping.”
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 Waitrose spokesperson said: “No retailer is immune to inflation but we’re working very hard with our suppliers to ensure we offer great value, while maintaining our industry-leading animal welfare standards and support for British farmers and suppliers.”
Previous Which? research:
- 50 UK areas most at risk in the cost of food crisis identified by Which? as it calls for supermarkets to step up – When Which? previously looked at the most at-risk places for food insecurity, it found the Scottish central belt, the Welsh Valleys, North East England, Yorkshire and the West Midlands were among the worst places for accessing affordable food. The research found that overall 95 Westminster constituencies where at least half of neighbourhoods in the constituency were more likely to have trouble easily accessing affordable food.
- Inconvenient truth: supermarket giants failing to stock budget ranges in smaller stores, Which? Reveals – In a mystery shop of 123 Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores, Which? sent researchers to check the availability of a list of around 29 everyday budget items, including dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, minced meat and tinned fish. On average, the biggest supermarket stores had 87 per cent of the products Which? was looking for, or an equivalent product in the same range. However, in small Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Morrisons Daily convenience stores, the budget line items on Which?’s list were available less than 1 per cent of the time.
- The cost of convenience? That’ll be £800 please – Which? reveals the extra cost of shopping local – Which?’s research found that shoppers buying the same 75 items at Tesco Express, including Anchor Spreadable Butter, a Hovis white bread loaf and own-brand milk would be spending an extra £15.73 on average a week than those shopping online or at a larger Tesco store – £817.91 more over the course of a year.
Which? is the UK’s consumer champion, here to make life simpler, fairer and safer for everyone. Our research gets to the heart of consumer issues, our advice is impartial, and our rigorous product tests lead to expert recommendations. We’re the independent consumer voice that influences politicians and lawmakers, investigates, holds businesses to account and makes change happen. As an organisation we’re not for profit and all for making consumers more powerful.
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