As the impact of the cost of living crisis hits home for millions of people, Which? shares 10 top tips to save consumers hundreds of pounds on their food bills.
Over recent months, inflation has increased the cost of food across the board, with many retailers and brands upping their prices. Recent data from Kantar found that the price of groceries has risen at its fastest rate in 11 years, potentially adding an extra £271 to the average amount shoppers will pay this year.
The consumer champion has found that shoppers can take simple steps to combat rising costs, by avoiding costly convenience stores, shopping around for the best prices, and opting for cheaper non-branded products.
1.Avoid convenience stores and save hundreds of pounds a year
While it isn’t an option for everyone, avoiding convenience stores could save shoppers hundreds of pounds each year. In an investigation (Feb 2021), Which? found that customers can end up spending 9.5 per cent more each year shopping at a Sainsbury’s Local rather than a regular Sainsbury’s supermarket. Which? analysed the average prices of 48 items at the two largest convenience chains, Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local, and compared the costs with the same items at their supermarket counterparts. The highest weekly price difference between Sainsbury’s and Sainsbury’s Local during the period Which? studied was a substantial £10.20, or £322 over the course of a year. Meanwhile, a basket of groceries from Tesco Express cost on average £279 more over the course of a year. For those who have the option of going to a regular supermarket rather than a convenience store, it pays to make the switch.
2. Shopping around for the best prices could save £9.21 per basket
It often pays to look in different supermarkets for the best prices. Every month Which? analyses thousands of grocery prices to find the cheapest supermarket, comparing the price of a trolley of groceries at some of the biggest supermarkets and often finding big price differences. For example, in March 2022 Lidl was the cheapest supermarket, with a basket of 21 groceries costing an average of £26.83. The same or equivalent items from the priciest supermarket Waitrose cost £36.04, that’s a £9.21 saving.
3. Don’t dismiss supermarket’s own brands and save hundreds of pounds a year
Shoppers can also make significant savings by opting for supermarket own-brand products over expensive branded items. These items can be a lot cheaper than the big brands. In a series of blind taste tests, Which? found that many supermarket own-brands are not only cheaper, but sometimes they also taste better than their well-known branded counterparts. Which? tested everyday essentials such as beans, orange juice, honey nut cornflakes and coffee and found that, for those willing to swap, shoppers could save themselves hundreds of pounds a year without compromising on taste. For example, switching from Innocent orange juice (£3.60 for 1.35 litres, 27p per 100ml) to Aldi’s The Juice Company Smooth Orange Juice – costing just £1.69 per 1.75L carton (10p per 100ml) could save shoppers nearly £100 a year.
4. Search different aisles – and look up and down
Shoppers can save by looking around the supermarket more carefully for the best value items. Which? found that some products, including rice, sauces, and baking ingredients, can be found in multiple different supermarket aisles at different prices. For example, rice and chickpeas can be cheaper in the world foods aisle than they are in other parts of the shop. Similarly, sultanas and cashew nuts often cost less in the baking aisle as well as the dried fruit and nuts or snacking shelves. Supermarkets often place their less-profitable items high and low on the shelves, and the ones they want to promote at eye level. Shoppers should scan the shelves thoroughly and look up and down.
5. Stock up when you can
Grocery prices can vary from week to week, fluctuating by up to 284 per cent. Which? previously investigated more than one million prices in its biggest-ever pricing investigation to uncover how much, and how often, the prices of branded products in supermarkets change. The consumer champion exposed supermarket pricing secrets, from the grocer that almost always beats its rivals on the cost of branded groceries, to the supermarket where you’ll pay almost four times the amount for the same product on some days than others. Price fluctuations, or ‘yo-yo’ pricing, means that it is often worth shoppers stocking up when items they buy regularly are discounted. This approach can work particularly well for store-cupboard items and products that can be frozen.
6. Get rewarded for your spending
Shoppers can sign up for supermarket loyalty schemes to earn points and save money on their shopping. Many schemes offer exclusive discounts, rewards, charity donations and competitions to loyal customers. Which? found that customers could save between 50p (with Sainsbury’s Nectar) and £5 (Iceland) for every £100 spent when using a supermarket loyalty scheme. However, these savings could easily be cancelled out if the shop’s prices are higher than those of its competitors. So while it’s always worth signing up to schemes offered by shops you already use, you probably shouldn’t change where you shop just to earn points.
7. Don’t be duped by discounts
Supermarkets often place vertical signs with offers on in the middle of the aisle, with the intention of catching shoppers’ eyes. While special offers can be helpful, they can encourage shoppers to purchase items they hadn’t intended on buying. When working out whether the price is actually decent, Which? suggests that shoppers look at the unit or ‘per-100g’ cost rather than the overall pack price – this makes it much easier to compare the product against alternatives. It’s also worth noting that ‘value packs’ don’t always offer the best deal. Sometimes buying two packs of five is actually cheaper than one pack of 10.
8. Write a list, and stick to it
Supermarkets purposefully spread different types of groceries across different sections of the shop to make sure customers walk past as many shelves as possible, even if they’re only there for a few basic items. Taking the simple step of making a list and trying not to be distracted by other products is an easy way for shoppers to save money. However, this can be more difficult to stick to in unfamiliar stores. Which? finds that in most stores dairy products and bread can be found at the back, fruit and vegetables are at the front and drinks and frozen items are at the far end.
9. Try shifting down a range
Supermarkets usually offer a number of different ranges of own-label products, from basic and value brands to premium, for example, Tesco Finest. There are decent savings to be had by moving down a tier – and often the budget option tastes just as good.
10. Be flexible with best-before dates
Food with a use-by date must be used by midnight of its expiry date or it could be unsafe. However, best-before dates are far more flexible and don’t have the same safety issues. Food near or even after its best-before date is usually perfectly fine to eat and often heavily discounted. If you find something in the cupboard that’s gone past its best-before date, give it a sniff – if it smells fine, it should be OK to eat.
Adam French, Which? Consumer Rights Expert, said:
“Rising food prices and the cost of living crisis are putting huge pressure on household budgets at the moment, and no one wants to overpay for food.
“Shopping around and buying own-brand products is an easy way to save hundreds of pounds a year, as is avoiding expensive convenience stores if you can. Those prepared to switch to a cheaper supermarket for their regular shop will likely find some great value alternatives to their favourite brands.”
Notes to editors:
- Over the coming months, Which? will be highlighting free and useful money-saving advice every Monday to help consumers manage the ongoing cost of living crisis. The series will cover a range of topics, from how to save money on household bills, to childcare and travel.
- Which? taste-tested a range of everyday food items over recent months, pitting supermarket own-branded products against popular brands. Prices were correct at the time of testing.
- Those who don’t have enough money for food might be able to get help from a food bank. The largest foodbank organisation in the UK is the Trussell Trust. Consumers usually need to get referred by an organisation, such as Citizens Advice, in order to use a food bank. You can either ask the foodbank to help you organise an appointment with one of these organisations, or you can get in contact with the organisation directly.
- Premium supermarket ranges include Tesco Finest, Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference, Lidl Luxe, Aldi’s Specially Selected, Morrisons The Best, Asda Extra Special, Iceland Luxury, Waitrose’s No.1, Co-op Irresistible, Marks and Spencer Our Best Ever.
- How to spend less at the supermarket
- Supermarket price comparisons
- Ease the Squeeze: how to save money on your food bills
- Best and worst supermarkets
- Best cheap supermarket food and drink: the own-labels that beat the big brands
- The cost of convenience: how much extra will you pay at Sainsbury’s Local and Tesco Express?
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