Shoppers who regularly buy groceries from local supermarket convenience stores instead of bigger supermarkets are likely to pay hundreds of pounds more over the course of a year, new research from Which? has found.
The consumer champion analysed the prices of own-label and branded items at the two largest traditional supermarket convenience chains, Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local, and compared the costs with the same items at their larger equivalents or bought online.
The results highlight the eye-watering costs people face if they live in an area where larger stores are scarce or online delivery access is poor.
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.
At Sainsbury’s, Which? compared the prices of 69 groceries including Heinz tomato soup, McVities biscuits and Birds Eye Potato Waffles and found that shoppers using Sainsbury’s Local instead of shopping online or going to a larger store would have spent an extra £477.93 over the year.
While supermarket prices fluctuate all the time, Which?’s analysis revealed steep mark ups at both Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express stores on individual items.
In the worst case included in Which?’s research, own-label sweet potatoes were 95p on average when bought online or at a big Tesco but £1.30 on average at Tesco Express – a difference of 37 per cent.
Which? also found Mr Kipling Bakewell slices were £1.27 online or at larger stores, but cost £1.62 at Tesco Express – 28 per cent more.
At Sainsbury’s the worst offender was Heinz Cream Of Tomato soup, which was £1.15 online and at the bigger store but £1.37 at Sainsbury’s Local – a 19 per cent mark-up.
Similarly Birds Eye Potato Waffles were £1.71 at Sainsbury’s, both online and at bigger stores, but £2.01 at Sainsbury’s Local.
Not all items were more expensive at convenience stores compared to big supermarkets. Anchor Spreadable Butter Tub (500g), Colgate Total Original Toothpaste (125ml) and Magnum Almond Ice Cream (4 pack) were all 3 per cent cheaper on average at Sainsbury’s Local compared to larger Sainsbury’s stores and online. Tesco’s own-label unsalted butter block (250g) was 2 per cent cheaper on average at Tesco Express than at larger Tesco stores and online.
The large differences in price show how challenging food shopping can be, especially for people who are more vulnerable to food insecurity, don’t shop online, or don’t have easy access to a larger supermarket.
In November, Which? published the Priority Places for Food Index, developed with the Consumer Data Research Centre at the University of Leeds, which showed that seven in 10 UK Parliamentary constituencies have at least one area in need of urgent help accessing affordable food – meaning that people living in these areas are most at risk in the cost of food crisis.
While supermarket convenience stores offer a local lifeline for many, or are an easy alternative when looking to avoid doing a big shop, Which?’s research shows that at a time when grocery prices are soaring, many shoppers face higher costs than they would do if they went to a larger supermarket or shopped online.
Which? is campaigning for supermarkets to do more to support consumers through the current cost of living crisis in a range of ways. This includes ensuring that affordable ranges are available, for example by offering a range of budget lines for affordable essential items that enable a healthy diet across their stores including convenience stores and particularly in locations where people most need support.
As well as ensuring budget range availability in all stores, Which? is calling for supermarkets to make unit pricing clearer, more legible and consistent so that people can more easily understand the best deals. Offering targeted support by focussing their marketing budgets and promotions to support those struggling, with offers, vouchers and loyalty card benefits targeted at the places and households where people are most in need.
As part of its Affordable Food For All campaign, Which? has published a 10-point plan of steps supermarkets can take across these three key areas to help ensure affordable food is available to everyone who needs it.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said
“Convenience stores offer a local lifeline for some shoppers, but Which? research shows shopping at a supermarket convenience shop rather than a bigger store comes at a cost – at a time when soaring grocery prices are putting huge pressure on household budgets.
“We know the big supermarkets have the ability to take action and make a real difference to people struggling through the worst cost of living crisis in decades. That’s why we’re calling on them to ensure everyone has easy access to basic, affordable food lines at a store near them, can easily compare the price of products to get the best value and that promotions are targeted at supporting people most in need.”
Notes to editors:
Which? recently launched its Affordable Food For All campaign calling on supermarkets to step up and help consumers keep food on the table. The consumer champion has defined how this can be achieved in a 10-point plan that sets out specific steps supermarkets can take in three main areas: clear and transparent pricing, access to affordable food ranges across all stores and more targeted promotions for consumers who are struggling.
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? checked the price of popular groceries at large Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores and their convenience store counterparts for every week of 2022.
- Which?’s choice of groceries were based on our regular monthly supermarket price comparison, and included Anchor Spreadable Butter, a Hovis white bread loaf, McVities biscuits, and own-label chopped tomatoes and milk.
- Which? compared the prices of 75 groceries between Tesco and Tesco Express, and found a massive yearly price difference of £817.91. That makes Tesco Express 10% more expensive than larger Tesco stores over the year.
- The weekly price difference was £15.73 on average, however the week with the greatest disparity has a difference of £19.78.
- Which? compared the prices of 69 groceries between Sainsbury’s and Sainsbury’s Local, and found that shoppers would have paid £477.93 more in 2022 if they only shopped in the convenience store.
- Which?’s pricing analysis revealed products with steep mark ups at both Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express stores.
- Tesco has 1,966 convenience stores compared to 798 larger superstores according to its 2022 annual report.
- Sainsbury’s has 813 convenience stores and 598 larger superstores according to its annual report for 2022
- Which? only had access to pricing data for Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express for its analysis, but there are nearly 50,000 convenience stores across the UK.
A Sainsbury’s spokesperson said: “There may be price differences between convenience stores and supermarkets. This is because our Sainsbury’s Local stores are located in city or town centre locations and their operating costs, for example rent and rates, are higher.”
Tesco did not wish to comment on the research.
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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