/ Food & Drink

Budget vs premium food – can you taste the difference?

Budget supermarket vegetables

Almost nine in ten respondents to our latest survey said that, compared with a year ago, their grocery bill has increased. So, can you save cash by swapping premium for budget supermarket food without sacrificing taste?

We also found that four in ten shoppers now buy more food from supermarket own-brand economy ranges than they did 12 months ago.

So we decided to test over 200 everyday items from the big four supermarkets (Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco) to see whether their discount ranges could compete with their more expensive, premium offerings.

We put supermarket’s premium and budget ranges head-to-head by comparing nutritional value, ingredients and their origins, and animal welfare standards. We also conducted a taste-test with The Good Food Guide award-winning chef, Ryan Simpson, to see whether differences were obvious.

Budget meat, vegetables and yoghurt

Before we started this investigation I had never bought budget, as I assumed ‘you get what you pay for’. However, following the results, I’ve bought budget butter for cooking and budget cheese to use in a sauce – both were perfectly fine.

However, I still won’t buy budget meat. We found that premium meats had fewer added ingredients (including water) and were generally from prime cuts of meat. For example, premium sausages contained twice as much meat as their budget counterparts.

Whereas differences between premium and budget versions of plain yoghurt and vegetables were difficult to spot. In fact, when it came to spaghetti, Ryan actually preferred Tesco’s Value range over its Finest spaghetti range, finding the former ‘less rubbery’.

The differences between budget and standard vegetables are mainly down to appearance – standard veg (class 1) is more uniform in appearance and budget veg (class 2) allows more irregularities in size and some broken pieces.

It’s actually quite possible that the two vegetable ranges come from the very same farm! Surely it’s all the same once a carrot has been chopped up and put in a stew?

What budget foods would you buy?

So, as you can see from our research, there are plenty of foods you can buy cheap without sacrificing taste. In fact, you may not even notice the difference.

Ryan also said it’s a good idea to think about what you’re going to use an item for. Using premium cheese to melt into a sauce is a waste, as you’ll lose the texture you’re paying extra for. But if you want it for a cheese board, it’s definitely worth paying a little bit more.

Do you regularly combine value and premium supermarket foods in your shopping basket, and if so, how do decide which ones to budget on?

Which of the following foods would you buy from a budget range?

Store cupboard groceries (24%, 685 Votes)

Tinned food (22%, 625 Votes)

Fresh fruit and vegetables (22%, 623 Votes)

Dairy (13%, 386 Votes)

None (5%, 154 Votes)

Fish (5%, 144 Votes)

Meat (5%, 140 Votes)

Ready Meals (5%, 135 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,018

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Sophie Gilbert says:
20 July 2011

Before reading Shefalee’s article, I thought, “budget vs premium food – can you taste the difference?”: sometimes yes, sometimes no, it’s a case of trial and error. And the article bears that up.

I would also agree with Ryan’s saying that you need to think what you’re going to use items for. I made onion soup the other day and stuck a tablespoonful of my cheaper brandy in it, not of the good stuff I like to drink.


As a diabetic who reads the nutrirional information on food labels, I got the impression some years ago that UK producers add sugar to cheaper products while European suppliers reduce it. Has any research been done on attitudes to additives?


Hi John H

I’ve not come across anything that has shown the UK producers are increasing the sugar in their products while their European counterparts are reducing it, if you have an example please send it through as this would be interesting to look at.
When we compared cereals marketed to children a few years ago we found that sometimes the UK ones did contain slightly more sugar than the identical cereal in countries such as France, Switzerland and Germany. However this was around 3 years ago and things could have changed since then.

Regarding the additives, we at Which? haven’t carried out any research on consumer attitudes.

Anne says:
20 July 2011

I also buy food, including meat, from ‘budget supermarket’ Lidl. They have reasonably priced, good quality meat and the offers on their fresh seasonal fruit and veg can be stunning. I try to go there to shop first, then pick up whatever else is left on my list from Sainsburys or Morrisons afterwards.

harryjoe says:
20 August 2011

Lidl lean steak mince has “typically” <7% fat. Tesco's is 10 or higher from my checking.

Sheila H King says:
20 July 2011

I shop in Sainsburys and buy their budget fruit – bananas, apples, pears – their pasta and muesli – and their denture tablets. We can’t detect any difference in the quality between these standard and budget items.

Ray Dunn says:
20 July 2011

This seems a good policy if you don’t have to travel miles out of your way. We do the same. However, in our case we have 3 Lidl stores within a few miles of us. We also have 2 Aldi stores within a couple of miles or so. What is left on the list can be obtained from the local Tesco, Morrisons, Asda or Sainsburys. Whatever its other shortcomings, Bradford is not short of food stores.


I try Sainsbury’s Basic Range for any new product I buy.If I like it-and 9 times out of 10 I do-I stick to it.
The yoghurt is great as are their avocados.
Basic toffees and chocolate are fine too and the Basic tinned tomatoes are excellent.
A friend swears by the basic tea bags but in this case I am sticking to Yorkshire tea..

Norman Taylor says:
20 July 2011

Blow the budget lines at the posh supermarkets. We prefer the budget supermarkets Lidl and Aldi for 90% of our food shopping and smaller retailers including our village shop for the rest. Most of the products in the aforementioned supermarkets are as good as and often better than Tesco Sainsburys or Morrisons and certainly better priced. Some might consider the limited range of goods a disadvantage but it seldom inconveniences us and is easily rectified by creeping into the other establishments occasionally.


I have shopped at Morrisons (Blackpool) since it opened 12 or more years ago. In those days I considered Morrisons to be the best of the 4 big supermarkets, especially for their value range. However, since the arrival of Aldi and Lidl I find their prices to be lower and the quality higher. In recent years there has been a change in Morrison`s policy, their prices have risen and the quality has deminished. What is more the staff are not trained in the manner in which they used to be. Well done Aldi and Lidl, lower prices do not necessitate poorer quality.

Edith McLaughlin says:
21 July 2011

In Northern Ireland we pay more than UK mainland and we have no Aldi or Morrisons.
Lidl and Dunnes stores are certainly cheaper and just as good quality, than the BIG Stores.
You are not tempted to avail of the “in your face” (so called offers eg 3 for 2, buy one get one free).
I know it’s old advice but making a list of what you actually need and sticking to it, makes all the difference!!


Thanks to a helpful email we have now added in the option ‘None’ to our poll for those who would not buy any of those foods from a budget range. If you’ve held back to vote before now because of this, please vote now. And remember, it’s a multiple choice poll so you can vote for more than one type of food! Thanks.


What the government should do is stop misleading the public about the inflation rate by including high price electrical goods (e.g. plasma screen televisions that the person on a budget cannot afford) in the RPI shopping basket. Conveniently, of course, high price electrical goods invariably tend to be reducing in price as technology develops. Government should bear in mind that you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. We KNOW that the real inflation rate for the products that we buy is not 4% to 5%. I suppose the policy works for government if they can fool enough of the people enough of the time.