Monday, 2 March 2009

Sneaky supermarket pricing strategies

Remember a time - not so long ago - when the standard advice on how to save money on fruit and veg was to buy them loose? And that the best bargains were on the bottom shelf? I've trotted those tips out myself more times than I care to mention but have to tell you now they're out of date.

Pre-packed veg can be cheaper than loose ones. The best bargains can be at eye-level.

Here's an example from Somerfield just now. Loose potatoes, sold down on the bottom shelf are £1.65 a kilo or 75p a lb. (That's not new potatoes which are £2 a kilo) If you buy a pack of four, which I'm guessing would come to about 800g, they're only 90p. Even organic potatoes, sold at eye-level at £1.03 a kilo, are cheaper.

How on earth does this make sense? Well, for what it's worth, my hypothesis is this. Potatoes are a staple - people don't have to be encouraged to buy them. Supermarkets (or rather their suppliers) are taking a hit on the special offers they're doing so they need to make it up somewhere else. They want a minimum spend on lines like potatoes so they want to encourage you to buy a pack rather than the amount you actually need.

None of which is good news for pensioners and other people on a budget who are living on their own but since when have the supermarkets cared about them?

You will almost certainly find potatoes - and other veg - more cheaply if you go to a street market, greengrocer or farm shop but if you're buying them in supermarkets be on your guard!


Anonymous said...

What drives me amd is Tesco's newish "market value" wheeze. Packs of bananas for instance carry no weight, just a price - if you weigh them and are reasonably good at mental arithmetic (whirr, whirr, click, click)they are often more expensive per kilo than the loose ones. As to the pricing of tomatoes, don't get me started.

Anonymous said...

oops - I meant drives me MAD not amd (probably amd as well!)

HowtoBEaCOOLoldLady said...

i noticed at sainsburys that they have seriously hoiked up the prices of their bsics range. just as folk started buying them probably, due to the credit crunch. they made a big advertising fuss about how much cheaper the basic range was and souped up the price. eg. tinned tomatoes were 21p - now 33p, pasta was 19p now 43p. cheeky i think.

and some things are priced by item, some buy pack, some by lbs and some by kilos.

and furthermore, my budget head research into Lidl revealed that it wasn't cheaper than Sainsburys!

Maisie said...

You nowadays need a degree in maths and grocery shopping before setting foot into a supermarket.

As prices are up and down like yo-yos and weights change quicker than the wind.

I personally have found the best idea for us as a family of 4 with 2 teenage boys; is to have an organic veg box delivered and then buy a sack of potatoes once a month from the farm gate, and get fruit from the local shop as the price is just as comparable especially if i'm not intending to go into the supermarket that week.(petrol costs).

I also run a store cupboard so never really run out of anything as once the last but one packet has been brought from the stock into the using cupboard I buy more.

Fiona Beckett said...

Bears out what I was saying. Drives me amd too, local lass ;-) Nothing is transparent any more, everything designed to trap the unwary shopper.

Hadn't spotted 'basics' range had gone up at Sainsbury's getting stuff done but it doesn't surprise me. Nor that Lidl isn't as cheap as you'd think. We went to Aldi recently and ended up with a bill as big as we usually run up when we go to Sainsbury's

Good strategy having a veg box and well-stocked storecupboard maisie (though regular readers will know I haven't had much luck with veg boxes!) Freezers are useful too - you can buy meat when it's cheap and stash it away.

Anyone else spotted supermarkets charging over the odds or other dodgy practices?

Unknown said...

I find that I can't do a full shop at Aldi, and I tend just to go there for the few odd things (that I can't get anywhere else, or for say, cereal where it is much cheaper). They do have a good range of cheap fruit and veg, I think it's usually six items for 69p, although to point out, when this first started they were 49p each!

I don't shop at Sainsbury as there is not one near me, however I have noticed that thre Tesco Value stuff has too increased in price, in particular the foods mentioned previously such as pasta. I think if you buy Tesco Value on a regular basis for anything, you'll easily notice the changes in prices. If you only buy them now and again, then maybe not so.

I try to have a good snoop around before buying fruit and vegetables anywhere!

Hollow Legs said...

I always look at price per kilo, I swear i save more money.

I've noticed however in Sainos that it's cheaper to buy 2 x 500gr packs of napolitana spaghetti than to buy 1kg. Strange.

Fiona Beckett said...

Yes, that's another new one, Lizzie. Big packs always used to be cheaper than smaller packs. Maybe they get a better deal from the producer on the 500g pack.

Good strategy for Aldi, smilernpb but think they rely on you impulse buying when you're there. Last time I picked up a whole lot of cheap wine and beer I hadn't planned for instance!

James said...

The spaghetti thing is probably a sign of the times. Now everyone's looking to cut their spend they're more likely to go for the 500g, so by making them cheaper, you're more likely to buy two - so the shop still makes a good sale.

I was thinking about prepped salads as well - if you cost out boxes of salad leaves that supermarkets buy, the profit on selling small bags of salad leaves (never under 99p) must be vast. Something has to pay for that bargain booze though.....

I found merchant gourmet vanilla beans recently at the cash and carry - £15 for 40, so £0.375 each, while at the supermarket you can pay up to £3 each! That's economy. You just need to know someone with a cash & carry card.

Re potatoes - do you peel them before you mash or roast? If you really want to be frugal you can leave the skins on - more fibre that way too.

Career Misfit said...

I grabbed a £1 bag of Maris Pipers from the local Somerfield the other day too, and managed not to get drawn into buying anything else. Combined with a couple of eggs from a farm shop just over the border in Cheshire (£1.25 for six free range medium) and half a tin of baked beans we had baked egg, chips and beans for supper last night (one of my favourite Goodfood recipes). It was delicious, incredibly cheap and contains suprisingly little fat because everything's done in the oven. The right combination of taking advantage of a supermarket offer and buying locally.

The egg issue is an interesting one, actually. We've got some friends who have started keeping chickens. At £7 each, a live chicken costs almost the same as a prepared and packed one, and each chicken reliably provides an egg a day which is fresh, organic and cheap to achieve: a home-made run keeps them sheltered or able to move around outside as they choose, and the seed costs almost nothing. Tempting to try it ourselves at some point, and give away the surplus eggs we don't use.

Anonymous said...

Don't know that it's exactly dodgy, but more sneaky - and not just the supermarkets, but suppliers.

My BH and I have noticed quite a few things lately that are either a bit more in price or possibly even the same price as they had been . . . but the package weight/size/number is smaller!

Fiona Beckett said...

Loads of good points, James. You're probably right about spaghetti. It's all about trying to make us buy more.

Salads - yes, the cost of those bags is outrageous. In France whole lettuces are a fraction of that price and much fresher and more tasty.

And very good point about getting a cash and carry card. Anyone else got one/know how to get one?

Sometimes I peel spuds for flavour (nicer with mash) but you can always deep fry the peelings for a crispy Tex Mex-style snack with sour cream and salsa.

LOVE the sound of rearing hens, careermisfit. I had no idea they were so cheap. Unfortunately we live in a flat so it's not an option but I'd be interested to know if you get some and how it goes. Make us all jealous!

And yes, shrinking packets are another trap for the unwary, kadeeae. Any specific examples?

Anne said...

I used to think loose was best but now check the shelves carefully, looking at per kg cost compared to bagged varieties, can make quite a big difference to the bill

Anonymous said...

Hi Fiona-

The last few examples of less product for the same or higher price were sausages, fairy liquid (ok, not food) and packaged meats from our butcher.

If we buy sausages in the supermarket we tend to buy the 'better' ones. Many that used to be in packs with a 454g weight are the same price now but at 400g. Same number of sausages (6) but they're smaller.

The normal lemon fairy washing up liquid used to be in a 500ml bottle and it's now "redesigned" and is a 450ml bottle now.

At the butchers we sometimes buy cooked and/or sliced meats if rushed for time. The packs used to be 300g and 400g. The price is 10p more and the packs are now 275g and 350g. When asked (nicely!) for him it's a matter of his prices going up and needing to pass it on.

On Lidl & Aldi, overall I don't find them cheaper, but there are items here and there which are MUCH cheaper.

Again with the cash and carry card which we have due to my other half buying supplies for a business, it's really a matter of some things cheaper some not so. The cheapest seems to be large quantities, which we simply do not have room to store. I cannot justify buying 100 loo roll to save 3p a roll as an example.

Career Misfit said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Career Misfit said...

Keeping hens may be some way off for us, but we've just invested in one of those small, flat-pack cold frames and planted up a load of herb seeds. We get through quite a lot in a year so grow-your-own saves us a small, but notable, amount compared with buying the dried stuff in jars. Besides, to my taste buds, dried herbs taste rather flat compared to freshly picked.

We'll get some salad leaves going at some point as well; just a long tray with a sprinkle of seeds each week to keep things ticking over once they come through. The cut and come again varieties are a real boon during the summer and if you compare the price of a packet of seeds with a bag of average quality leaves, it works out quite favourably. The yield from modern seeds is impressive - very few don't take, although you definitely have to watch out for pests if planting outside.

Fiona Beckett said...

Thanks again, all! I think that sausage thing has been going on for a while kadeeae. When they introduced those premium ranges they reduced the pack size from 454g. Hadn't spotted the reduction in sliced meat packs tho' - or washing up liquid! And you're right you can go mad buying in bulk and it's not always worth it.

Very envious about your home grown salad leaves careermisfit. Wish we had a garden . . .