With grocery price inflation at a record high, and Which? research recently revealing that millions of people are skipping meals because of the cost of living crisis, the consumer champion’s latest Money-Saving Monday looks at how people can save on their supermarket shop.
Last week, Which? launched its Affordable Food For All campaign calling on supermarkets to step up and help all households keep food on the table.
While essential businesses have a crucial role to play during the cost of living crisis, there are some steps consumers can take to ease the pressure of rising prices, and Which? has compiled 10 top tips that could save shoppers hundreds of pounds on their grocery bills.
1. Shop at the cheapest supermarket
Every month, Which? analyses the prices of popular groceries at the UK’s biggest supermarkets and often finds big price differences. In October 2022, Aldi was the cheapest supermarket, with a basket of 48 groceries costing an average of £75.79. The same or equivalent items from the priciest supermarket in the analysis, Waitrose, cost £101.17 – that’s a £25.38 saving.
2. Opt for supermarket-own brands
Shoppers can also make significant savings by opting for supermarket own-brand products over more expensive branded items. 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? recently tested varieties of tomato soup and strawberry jam and found that, for those willing to swap, supermarkets offered tastier and cheaper options than popular brands.
For their respective 55p cans of tomato soup, Sainsbury’s scored a whopping 81 per cent and Tesco received 80 per cent – both securing Best Buy status. Meanwhile, Heinz didn’t impress as much, only scoring 69 per cent and costing £1.69. Shoppers opting for the supermarket version will save £1.14 per can.
Which? also pitted supermarket strawberry jams against big brands. Co-op and Sainsbury’s topped the table, securing Best Buy status. Sainsbury’s also received a Great Value award. At £2 per jar, it is 80p cheaper than Bonne Maman and Tiptree – both of which ranked lower down the table.
3. Avoid supermarket convenience stores to save hundreds of pounds a year
While it isn’t an option for everyone, avoiding supermarket convenience stores could save shoppers hundreds of pounds each year. In a February 2021 investigation, Which? analysed the average prices of 48 items that could commonly make up an average household’s weekly shop 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 research 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. 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 costs on average £279 more than a Tesco supermarket store 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. Don’t be duped by discounts
Supermarkets often place vertical signs with offers on them in the middle of the aisle, with the intention of catching shoppers’ eyes. While special offers can be helpful, they can also encourage shoppers to purchase items they hadn’t intended on buying. When working out whether the price is actually a bargain, 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. Which? has found that confusing pricing practices by supermarkets can make it difficult for shoppers to work out which food and drink products are the best value. This is worrying as Which? found some versions of the same product can cost up to three and a half times more (346%) per unit at the same supermarket.
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.
7. Write a list, and stick to it
Supermarkets can purposely 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.
8. 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 several 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 than they do on the snacking shelves. It’s also worth checking every shelf; supermarkets often place their less-profitable items on the higher and lower shelves, and the ones they want to promote at eye level.
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 supermarkets will mark it up with a yellow sticker in store, where you can get it for a heavily discounted price. 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.
Reena Sewraz, Which? Shopping and Money expert, said:
“We know that millions of people are skipping meals during the worst cost of living crisis in decades. Rising food prices are also putting huge pressure on household budgets at the moment, and no one wants to overpay for food.
“Taking the plunge and shifting down a range to supermarket own-brand products is an easy way to save hundreds of pounds a year, and your taste buds might be happier too. Changing where you do most of your shopping could also help you make savings.”
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 food bank 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 food bank to help you organise an appointment with one of these organisations, or you can get in contact with the organisation directly.
- 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.
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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