Staple foods including rice, spaghetti, baked beans and tea bags are among the items that could cost more than three times as much if budget range versions are not available and shoppers have no choice but to buy standard own-brand alternatives instead, Which? has found, as it calls on supermarkets to ensure more essential value range items are stocked in convenience stores.
For August, 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.
This month, in a separate piece of snapshot research Which? focused on the difference in price of some everyday food staples between budget range, standard own-brand and comparable branded versions to see how much customers could end up paying when cheaper versions are not available – which is often the experience of shoppers who rely on convenience stores.
In the most shocking example, Which? found shoppers could be faced with having to pay 246 per cent more at Asda where the budget range version, Just Essentials by Asda Long Grain Rice 1kg at 52p was not available, as the standard own-brand, Asda Easy Cook Long Grain White Rice 1kg was £1.80. If no own-brand options were available, a popular comparable branded alternative, Ben’s Original Long Grain Rice 1kg, was £4.85 – an increase of 833 per cent on the budget range version.
Which? found a similar scenario at Tesco where the budget version, Grower’s Harvest Long Grain Rice 1Kg (52p) was not available, the standard own-brand item – Tesco Easy Cook Long Grain Rice 1Kg was £1.25. That means customers would have to pay 140 per cent more. At Tesco, Which? found Ben’s Original Long Grain Rice 1Kg (£5.25) was 910 per cent more than the budget range version.
At Sainsbury’s, Which? found the same price differences as at Tesco. Standard own-brand, Sainsbury’s Easy Cook Long Grain White Rice 1kg was £1.25, while the budget range, Sainsbury’s White Rice 1kg was 52p (a difference of 140 per cent). The comparable branded version, Ben’s Original Long Grain Rice 1kg, was also £5.25 (910% more than the budget version).
Which? also found that Hubbard’s Foodstore Spaghetti 1kg at Sainsbury’s was 56p while the standard own-brand alternative, Sainsbury’s Quick Cook Spaghetti 500g was 75p for half the pack size, an increase of 168 per cent when comparing the price per 100g. Branded Napolina Spaghetti 1kg was £2.50 – 346 per cent more than the budget version for the same amount of pasta.
At Morrisons, budget Savers Baked Beans 410g were 27p, but standard own-brand Morrisons Baked Beans 410g were 48p – 78 per cent more. There, the Heinz Baked Beans 415g were £1.39, a gram for gram increase of 396 per cent.
Similarly at Sainsbury’s, Which? found the budget range, Hubbard’s Foodstore Baked Beans 400g were 27p while standard own-brand Sainsbury’s Baked Beans 400g were 43p – a 59 per cent increase. The branded version, Heinz Baked Beans 415g was £1.40 and while the tin was slightly bigger, it still worked out gram for gram as 400 per cent more than the budget line version.
At Tesco Which? found budget range Stockwell & Co 80 Tea Bags 200G were 78p while the standard own-brand version Tesco 80 Teabags 250G were £1.10 – 41 per cent more for the same number of tea bags- albeit each one slightly bigger. The branded alternative, Yorkshire 80 Teabags 250G was £3.30, a 323 per cent increase on the supermarket’s budget version.
While there are likely to be differences in quality and ingredients between the different ranges of products – budget items won’t be identical to the standard own-label items or their branded equivalents – Which?’s findings show the price discrepancy between some supermarket budget range essential items, their own-brand offering and much more expensive branded goods.
But while shoppers who buy their food online or in a big store should be able to choose which items best fits their needs and their budgets, those who rely on supermarket convenience stores are likely to have a more limited choice. Previous Which? research shows essential budget line items are hardly ever sold in supermarket convenience stores.
To make matters worse, Which? has found that supermarkets charge higher prices for the same products at convenience stores, compared with larger stores. This means that Which?’s latest price comparisons are likely to be a conservative estimate of what the absolute price may look like for convenience store customers.
Which?’s inflation tracker shows that the overall annual rate of grocery inflation slowed to 12.5 per cent in August – the lowest figure recorded since September 2022 and considerably down on the highs of 17.2 per cent found earlier this year. However this still means prices are rising at an alarming rate. Official figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures for August show food has overtaken household bills as the biggest contributor to overall inflation.
Which?’s research shows that alongside availability of the cheapest ranges in smaller stores, customers are also battling very high inflation on staple foods.
Some supermarkets have taken steps to help customers. Morrisons has started to stock 10 budget range items in 500 of its Daily stores and has said 30 more will follow. Tesco has vowed to swap branded goods with cheaper branded or own brand alternatives in Express stores but should go further by stocking its cheapest budget ranges.
Despite the huge support this could bring to their customers during the cost of living crisis, Sainsbury’s and Asda have so far failed to announce that they are making any significant changes in their convenience stores when it comes to stocking more affordable foods.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:
“As millions struggle with increased food prices and other high household bills, it’s staggering that shoppers face paying over three times more for items if they can’t get to a larger supermarket.
“Which? is calling on all major supermarkets to ensure expensive convenience stores are stocked with a range of essential budget ranges so that hard-pressed customers can afford important staple foods to feed themselves and their loved ones healthily.”
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.
Which? price comparison of supermarket budget range, own-brand and branded foods
Table note: Average online prices 22/07-22/08 in 2023, including discounts but not multibuys or loyalty offers. Branded equivalent based on the top selling brand for each category. Products selected as comparable budget range essentials that support a healthy diet. Sainsbury’s is rebranding its budget range to Stamford Street, so some product names on these items may have changed recently.
Which? looked at the prices across supermarket types in order to demonstrate the importance of supermarkets stocking their cheapest items across their different types of store formats.
Budget range items chosen based on Which? budget range audit research and found the most comparable standard versions.
For branded range Which? looked at the most comparable within the top selling brand.
Which? included all of the traditional biggest four supermarkets (Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco) where there were comparable items.
Which? supermarket food and drink inflation tracker
As part of its Affordable Food For All campaign, Which? launched a new monthly tracker in December 2022 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 April to August 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.
Previous Which? research
Right of replies
A spokesperson for Ocado 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 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. Over the summer, we also ran our Summer Collector scheme, this enabled customers to receive a significant money-off voucher at the end of August if they have met the criteria and shopped in four of the relevant weeks.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “We are acutely aware of the pressures facing millions of households right now and our number one priority continues to be doing all we can to keep prices low for our customers. We’re leading the industry on passing through lower costs on the products our customers buy most often and as a result, prices on our top 100 selling products are lower than they were in March. Our rate of inflation has been consistently behind the wider market for some time now – passing on less inflation than our major competitors, month after month for the past year and a half. In the last two years we have invested over £560m to keep our prices low and we are focused on saving customers money through key initiatives like our Stamford Street own-brand value range, our biggest ever Aldi Price Match and through Nectar Prices.”
“We have tens of thousands of products in our supermarkets so that we can offer our customers the best possible choice and value – whether they’re shopping for their favourite branded items, something special from our premium Taste the Difference selection or topping up on essentials with our core bySainsburys products and best value items in our Stamford Street range. Many of our Stamford Street and bySainsbury’s products are also part of our biggest ever Aldi Price Match campaign.
“Our prices are based on a variety of factors, including production and ingredients.”
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