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

Trust in the food industry has dropped to a nine-year low, Which?’s research finds, as two-thirds of consumers say they feel supermarkets are ripping people off in expensive convenience stores that fail to stock budget range foods.

Which?’s monthly consumer insight tracker found that trust in the groceries industry dropped in May to the lowest it has been since November 2014 – a confidence score of just +36 (on a scale of -100 to +100). This is a drop of 32 points since the previous high of +68 in May 2020.

This comes as a separate nationally representative Which? survey of over 2,000 UK adults found that two-thirds (67%) feel that supermarkets are ripping people off by the prices in convenience stores – which are often more expensive than larger stores and rarely stock budget items at all.

Three-quarters (75%) also said they find the price of convenience store foods too expensive compared to larger supermarkets and nearly half (45%) struggle to find affordable food in convenience stores.

Worryingly, half (51%) of those who rely on convenience stores at least once a week are struggling financially with the cost of living crisis – compared to a third (35%) of consumers overall.

When asked if having more budget ranges in stores would help, six in 10 (57%) of the public agreed. Which? is calling on supermarkets to improve availability of essential budget options in their convenience stores so consumers, especially those on a low income, are not paying over the odds for everyday essentials because they cannot get to a larger supermarket store.

These concerns about food prices were further reflected in Which?’s consumer insight tracker. Nine in 10 (88%) consumers said they were worried about the price of food – just one percentage point behind the number who said they were worried about energy prices (89%) – and the highest level it has been since Which?’s records began in 2012.

In response to rising food prices, nearly six in 10 (57%) said they have bought cheaper items, four in 10 (39%) have bought cheaper items on promotion and four in 10 (40%) have shopped around. One in 10 (11%) have skipped meals, 7 per cent have prioritised meals for other family members and 4 per cent have used a food bank.

Worryingly, an estimated 1.9 million households missed or defaulted on at least one mortgage, rent, loan, credit card or other bill in May. The 6.9 per cent missed payment rate observed is in line with the level seen at the same time last year, but still higher than in May 2021 (5.7%) and May 2020 (5.3%).

Renters remained much more likely than homeowners to have missed a payment in the last month (12.8% and 4.3% respectively).

More than half (55%) of households reported making at least one adjustment to cover essential spending such as utility bills, housing costs, groceries, school supplies and medicines in the last month. This equates to an estimated 15.5 million households.

Adjustments include cutting back on essentials, dipping into savings, selling possessions or borrowing. This is the lowest level seen since April 2022.

With grocery prices remaining high, households across the country are struggling to put healthy, affordable food on the table for themselves and their family – particularly for those who struggle to access bigger supermarkets. While some supermarkets have engaged with Which?’s Affordable Food For All campaign, their response has been far too limited to date, given the scale of the challenge people are facing.

Which? is now calling on the major supermarkets to act by making budget line items widely available, particularly in convenience stores, prioritising areas where people are most in need. They must also make pricing and offers more transparent so that people can easily work out which products are the best value.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“Trust in the groceries industry has fallen to a nine-year low – with many consumers telling us they feel ripped off by high convenience store prices. People should not have to pay over the odds for everyday essentials just because they struggle to get to a large supermarket.

“While the whole food supply chain affects prices, supermarkets have the power to do more to support people who are struggling, including ensuring everyone has easy access to basic, affordable budget ranges at a store near them, including smaller stores for consumers who rely on these.

“Supermarkets must also provide transparent pricing so people can easily work out which products offer the best value.”

ENDS 

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.

More than 87,000 supporters have signed our 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.

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

Convenience store survey

This online survey was conducted by Yonder Consulting on behalf of Which?. The survey was conducted 2nd – 4th June 2023 with a panel of 2,070 UK adults and the results were weighted to be nationally representative.

Consumer insight tracker

The consumer insight tracker is an online poll conducted monthly by Yonder on behalf of Which?. It is weighted to be nationally representative with approximately 2,000 respondents per wave.

Which? also estimates that between 5.8 per cent and 7.9 per cent of households missed or defaulted on a housing, bill, credit card or loan payment in the last month, with an average estimate of 6.9 per cent. This scales up to between 1.6 million and 2.2 million households missing a housing payment in the last month, with an average estimate of 1.9 million.

The survey indicates that between 53 per cent and 57 per cent of households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month, with an average estimate of 55 per cent. Based on the survey and the ONS estimate for the number of households in 2020 of 28.1 million, Which? estimates that between 14.9 million and 16.1 million households made an adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month, with an average estimate of 15.5 million.

Figure 1: Consumer trust in the food / groceries industry

Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave.

 

Figure 2: Worry about the cost of living remains very high

Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave.

 

Figure 3: 6.9% of households said they had missed a payment in the last month in May 2023

Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. The chart shows the proportion of households who have missed a housing, bill, loan or credit card payment in the last month.

 

Figure 4: More than half of households made at least one adjustment to cover essential spending in the last month

Source: Which? Consumer Insight Tracker, Online Poll weighted to be nationally representative, approx 2,000 respondents per wave. Adjustments include: cutting back, dipping into savings, borrowing from friends and family, taking out credit cards or loans, selling items, using an overdraft.

About Which?

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.

The information in this press release is for editorial use by journalists and media outlets only. Any business seeking to reproduce information in this release should contact the Which? Endorsement Scheme team at endorsementscheme@which.co.uk.

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