/ 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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Comments
Guest
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.

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Guest

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?

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Guest

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.

Guest
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.

Guest
harryjoe says:
20 August 2011

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

Guest
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.

Guest
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.

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Guest

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..

Guest
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.

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Guest

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.

Guest
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!!

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Guest

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.

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Guest

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.

Guest
Mike says:
22 July 2011

Can anyone inform me the cause of the ballooning cost of food? Seems to be some sort of hiccup between what supermarkets are paying for produce and what the farmer receives! Is it another example of rip-off Britain? Supermarkets have decimated ‘corner shops’ to such a degree they can now charge what they want, confident in the knowledge there is no effective competition. I thought we were supposed to be in the grip of a recession? If customers identified ‘comfort’ spending and set about reducing their overall checkout bills we would see a sudden decline in price rises. Once again we are being taken for donkeys, if you are serious about reducing your expenditure buy only what is absolutely necessary and steer clear of 2 for 1 offers unless both products are to be used immediately.

Guest
Ivano says:
22 July 2011

Food price increase does impact on our budget because we are pensioners, the worry is that not only price has gone up but quality has gone down in order for Supermarkets to maintain margin when it should be a shared loss. Do they not make enough profit already? Vegetables and fruit I find are nowhere as good as they should be, perhaps they are also cutting down on buying skills!
We really ought to teach them a lesson in one way or other, Which could lead the way, I would follow for sure.

Guest
Drib says:
22 July 2011

Choice would be nice but our local Tesco has dropped brand after brand and then reduced the packet size.
Anyone else able to find a choice for store cupboard essentials like Wholemeal Plain Flour. My Tesco only supplies Allinson in 1Kg bags at a scandalous £1.57.
No own brand.
Its own brand Wholemeal Bread Flour is £0.98 per Kg and in the standard 1.5 Kg bags with 4 alternatives namely, Dove Farm, Carrs, Hovis and Allinsons.
Plain flour is milled from local soft wheat (little transport cost) but Strong or Bread flours are milled from hard wheat which we in Britain do not produce. Russia has stopped supplies so we now depend on the USA & Canada.(at least 5000 mile transport costs) Yet as you can see Tesco is blantantly profiteering.
If there were an alternative store I would gladly move custom but as is normal the alternatives are at least a further 12 miles away and therefore impracticable. I repeat. Choice would be nice.

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Guest

Lidl and Aldi have appeared in this conversation but no-one has mentioned Pound Shop yet. Does this say something about where Which? readers draw the line when admitting to saving money on food?

Guest
Zoe says:
23 July 2011

I think it probably says more about where Pound Shops are. I, for instance, have never heard of them.

Guest
Catriona Morgan says:
1 September 2011

Very little of the food offered by Poundland could be described as basic (with the exeption of canned fish which does occur occasionally) Most of it is the kind of food you would do well to avoid anyway (chocolate, sweets, crisps, biscuits etc) especially if you are on a budget. I get the impression too that both Lidls and Aldi are cheaper and have better quality (chocolate certainly). Other things at Pound Land are great though. Books especially – just keep your eye in

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Guest

59% price increase by Walkers Crisps.
Brands that are strong in the marketplace will inevitably find it easier to impose price increases.
About 2 years ago the unit cost for a packet of Walkers Crips in a special offer multipack worked out at around 7 pence. Today the best unit price around works out to around 11 pence per packet (£2.00 for an 18 pack): TIME TO TRY CHEAPER LESS STRONG BRANDS.

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Guest

PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES stoking up inflation.
Lacri-lube 5g price £2.43 on 10 April 2009.
Same product costs £6.45 on 28 May 2009.
Such products inevitably have little competition and pharmacies don’t seem to recommend cheaper alternatives (maybe cheaper alternatives don’t exist because of limited product demand).

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Guest

CORRECTION.

“28 May 2009” should read “28 May 2011”.

165% price increase in two years.

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Guest

INFLATED “NORMAL” PRICES.
Pringles tubes of crisps appear to be a product that has an inflated “normal” selling price – of around £2 per tube. This is how some retailers can profitably sell the product at “buy one get two free” (Sainsburys £2.39 per tube buy one get two free recently) or £1 per tube (Tesco yesterday).
Muiller yoghurts might be a further example of inflated “normal prices” with regular “buy one get one free” and “buy one get two free” offers on a product with a “normal” (=inflated) price of £3.29 [for a 6-pack].
Chicago Town Pizzas regular price (two pack) around £1.75, some retailers from time to time offer this product at £1.00 indicationg that £1.75 is another possible inflated “normal price”.

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Guest

BEST KEPT SECRETS
Some of the best deals don’t seem to get reported on Which?

Rechargeable AA size NiMH batteries 4 pack.
Aldi stock these regularly @ around £2.79, and also (but intermittently) Lidl at a similar price. These bargain prices didn’t get a mention in the recent Which? report on rechargeable batteries, people could therefore get misled into paying a lot more elsewhere.

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Guest

Hi David, thanks for the tip off. We can’t always test every battery on the market, and selecting which ones to include is always a challenge. We do try to focus batteries that are always widely available but perhaps these will make it into our next test.

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Guest

LOYALTY CARD EXTRA BONUS
Tesco and Sainsburys issue loyalty cards which enable them to gather personal information as in shopping habits.
It would appear that by by NOT shopping at one shop or the other can prompt them, from this gathered information, to issue discount coupons over and above the points. For example £10 off a £50 spend or £10 off a £60 spend being recent examples.

Guest
Morag R H says:
23 July 2011

After shopping a few times at Aldi I realise that there are many good alternatives to well-known brands, especially amongst tinned foods and also washing powders, detergents etc. I think it’s always worth trying out these unknown brands as they are invariably cheaper.

Guest
Walderslady says:
23 July 2011

Supermarket “basics” ranges are often excellent, but I cannot for the life of me work out why things like crisps, avocados, sweets and snacks are included. These items are luxuries, and are not essential in any way.

Guest
Ralph Morton says:
23 July 2011

Most people don’t take the time to look to see what the contents contain. Most brands of tinned foods are far more expesive from the main supermarkets than from such as Aldi/Lidl. We have found that such as beans/ tomatoes are just as good if not better than most well known brands.(Tip just buy one tin) if you don’t like it you have not lost much however if you do you can save loads.

Guest
Pete says:
23 July 2011

There is more to consider than Branded vs Economy cuts. Global demand for food is rising which drives up commodity prices, especially meat. Processed food markups are exorbitant as demonstrated in this year BBC programs about bottled water, packet cereals and yogurts. Bottled water has to be the biggest health hype of them all and comes with a massive packaging cost to the environment for a commodity that is piped to you door. Then as being discussed here, there is price positioning by supermarkets and other retailers with ‘best… & budget price (quality?). On the other hand Branded manufacturers invest in research to improve products. There is good value in eating unpopular food, tinned sardines are fantastic. I tried Sainsbury’s basics trimmed smoke salmon with my cucumber sandwiches and the were pretty good. I likes my fish and would like to see all those discarded fish that are thrown back dead into the sea turned into fish cakes. I’ll eat them, who else will. Maybe rising food prices is a good thing!

Guest
KC says:
23 July 2011

Food prices have inevitably to increase as production costs and world commodity prices increase. Supermarkets and food manufacturers may find ways to reduce costs but this must not compromise nutritional quality, or standards of production where animals are concerned.
I wrote to my MP in 2008 warning of the eventual effects of supermarket food price wars creating unrealistically low staple food prices.
As a result of continual price wars, food is grossly undervalued and consumers expect cheap food.
The increases needed to keep food businesses viable now come at the same time as economic turmoil both in this country and worldwide.
Retailers complaining about negative growth while their profits still increase must share the pain like everyone else.
They should return some of the substantially increased margin over retail prices they have greedily gained over the last 10 years instead of transferring increased costs to producers or consumers.
If retailers had kept food prices realistic in the first place and not screwed down producer margins to increase their margins and pay for loss-leaders like milk etc, this would not have caused such a “double whammy” for consumers.
If farmers who produce food in the UK go out of business due to greedy retailers continually taking a disproportionate amount of the money consumers pay for their food, then consumers really will see huge rises in food prices.

Guest
Charlotte says:
23 July 2011

We need to be doing more to support UK farmers, I agree. I have to watch my finances (no exotic holidays or luxury splurges) but I am lucky enough to not be struggling. Good quality food is really a priority for me. I try to eat organic, free range whenever possible, that’s for the taste but even more because it does make a difference to my health. But I think it is even more important to support local UK farmers and go to farmer’s markets for as much as I can. I’ve had a good attempt at growing my own this year, even using the front garden. It’s not the Good Life and it’s not the answer to everything but black-thumbed as I am, I managed to get loads of rhubarb and courgettes, with no effort and they taste just amazing. Herbs are a good economy, if you buy that kind of thing in supermarkets. Seeds cost less than a single bag of fresh and it’s very satisfying. My favourite, Basil, was not so easy to grow but I think I’ve figured out it needs a lot less water than I think. To quote the dreadful supermarket tag line, every little ‘elps. But really growing these few things myself really has helped.

Guest
KC says:
23 July 2011

Take an interest in the food you are buying, look at where it was produced and what it contains, use seasonal food, go for quality, taste and nutritional value. To save money on food, plan your meals, waste less and cut out the expensive junk food. Don’t fall for the Bogoff’s if they aren’t what you really need, and make sure larger sizes are actually cheaper. Stick to your list and keep your eyes peeled for distractions eg Look at this then you won’t notice that. Support UK food producers as they circulate money back into their local economy and also contribute billions indirectly to the UK economy.

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Guest

Most of my shopping is done at Lidl or Aldi. I occasionally shop at Morrison’s to use up Vouchers obtained from petrol purchases and am shocked at how much more expensive things are in comparison.
Although some items like yeast or wholemeal flour aren’t available at Lidl/Aldi I rarely shop elsewhere. There tinned foods are very good, particularly fish products. Products are often aimed at the continental market and are more varied and probably better quality. Vegetables are cheaper especially the weekly special offers. I subscribe to weekly newsletters from Lidl and Aldi and have purchased many electrical,household, sportswear and DIY items which don’t appear in Which? reviews as they are only available for a limited period. I have never been disappointed.

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Guest

i always used to by premium/branded products bit of a food snob,but not now.the difference in price can be quite a bit.cereals i 99% buy supermarkets brand oh apart from cornflakes you just can’t beat kelloggs.if you buy buscuits try basics,we shop at sainsburys mostly and get basic rich tea and bourbons.lol.very cheap and just as good.what a price to.as i read before try something that are cheaper like basic if you like it great if not try the next price range above it.trial and error.you’ll ba amazed at somethings and the savings esp in these worrying financial times.

Guest
David S. says:
29 July 2011

I am late submitting my comments because I have just returned from a family holiday in Greece.
Things are pretty desparate there. Prices have rocketed. 95 octane unleaded petrol hovers between £1.55 and £1.65 a litre, and food prices have never been higher. Also the Greek government has tightened up the taxation system, so that everyone now pays tax, businesses and individuals alike. Unemployment has already reached record levels. Strikes are frequent and unpredictable.
So much for my holidays — let’s talk U.K.
My regular food shopping takes me to Tesco, Asda, Lidl and Aldi. It really is getting difficult to keep the food bills within sensible limits AND maintain a healthy diet. Supermarket special offers seem always to favour food high in fat, salt, and sugar. Meat prices have increased by up to 50% in the last 6 months, and those of us who depend on increasingly infrequent supermarket special
offers to stock our freezers with meat are rapidly running out of ideas. Lamb is ‘off the menu’ altogether (other than bony ‘stewing packs’) because U.K. producers (farmers) find it much more
profitable to export both animals and carcases to other EC countries, leaving U.K. prices sky high.
Short-dated (yellow label) supermarket meat is discounted, but even this is often over-priced. Quite how pensioners and the rapidly increasing numbers of unemployed people afford to feed themselves and their families, I really do not know. I can only surmise that the diet quality of poor people will deteriorate to an extent that even health experts could not predict: not just excessive fat,salt, and sugar, but actual nutrient deficiencies (viz.WWII). If we were lucky enough to have a leader with true vision, perhaps government action on food prices would take priority over temporarily reducing the price of petrol! Meanwhile let us hope that our government does not see fit to inflict on all of us the extent of hardships that my Greek friends are currently experiencing.

Guest
harryjoe says:
20 August 2011

your greek friends are getting the start of a long cold shower by paying taxes paid in other countries. basically their government lied/defrauded the european union. greece should be left sink, but it would drown the frence banks big time and almost a big the greman, italian and british. socialism is for the many, capitalism is for the few. we are the many, we have the power. turn off the telly; listen to nature or the noise about you. some medtation music and declutter the brain from the ad. noise and lights. give yourself space and time to think…not but told how to think!

Guest

I think Which should do more serious research on this. This idea that you can substitute cheaper items for more expensive ones without any loss of quality as prices rises is the very basis if the government’s switch to CPI. Since this switch will essentially rob existing pensioners of 20% of their pensions by the time they die (50% by the time you reach pension age if you are a 20 year old today) this is clearly an important matter. Basically if the government is wrong, which I think it is, they are just using a mathematical trick to steal our pensions. They key questions are how reliably could you do this replacement without losing quality and how long could you do it without running out of road – the government assumes forever – and can you do it for non supermarket goods. As I say this is a vitla argument to us all.

Guest
Graham Cox says:
10 August 2011

as a member i expect Which to set up consumer panels to taste value/own label and report differences in ingredients.

This more important that other goods as we spend most on food!!

Please, get cracking

Guest
harryjoe says:
20 August 2011

from someone with their nose to the “coalface” i.e. dairy farming 6.5 days/wk( yearly average 10.5 hrs/day) on father’s farm; food has got dearer but about 18 mths after disel, fertilizer and electricity. food is controlled in general by a few large compananies, their names aren’t even on the products but they are the advertisers, lobby and donation lists.the you have the supermarkets. 3 for X pounds! how much a pound/KILO?similar with none food stuff. low price—low quality. mostly impossible to repair.. . should have a label…”scan bar code before throw in bin and replacement on fast boat from china”. dont worry you or your family or neighbours will still have jobs. in the growing bin & import services sector. don’t worry about the toxic chemicals, well for a while at least, new almost legal slave workers, soil, water and air(hopefully) can be found to replace. sorry repair not an option at this “CHEAP” price.

Guest
Luke says:
8 June 2012

While of first appearance value biscuits seem as good and have the exact same ingredients as named brands but I would advise you to look at the saturated fat content per 100g. It is astonishing the difference. Although if you only have a few biscuits at a time then you don’t need to worry but having a pack at once!

I cannot remember off the top of my head but it is around 6-8g difference from value to brand.

One thing I do like to do when in supermarkets is when there is a busy isle i will pick up two products, one value and one brand and try to make it obvious i am comparing. You then later see the same people having a look. Curiosity kills the cat 🙂

Guest
Joanne says:
19 October 2012

I absolutely applaud Lidl and and Aldi, they have saved me by selling high quality food for a decent price. I can no longer afford Sainsbury’s and Tesco prices, even though they claim to be cheaper!

Guest

I think Which needs to be careful what it is saying here. The government has been arguing that people can shift to cheaper goods without any loss of quality – it’s called substitution – as the reason for preferring CPI over RPI. CPI is lower than RPI and so all state employees, state pensioners, benefit recipients and about half of private pensioners will see thier pensions slowly but relentlessly eroded. They could lose as much as 20% over theirpension life. Govt workers could lose 30% of their pensionsbefore they even pick them up and more later. The enthusiasm for Lidl/Aldi and supermarket budget lines here plays into their hands. My view would be that both have good things but not consistently and they keep changing products so knowing what to buy to maintain quality at a lower price is nearly impossible. Morrisons goes for sugary starchy type foods. I see little quality there. Ditto supermarket budget lines. If they were as good why would they cahrge less (though personally I am happy with nobbly fruit and veg). So the government line of sustaining quality at lower prices is I think hard to maintain. I think you need to be careful not to lend them credence for a larcenous policy. PS Actually even they don’t really believe it now and are trying to massage RPI down to CPI by changing the formulae. PPS It’s bored with not bored of (bugbear of mine)

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Guest

Aldi have stopped their wholewheat bread flour which was good flour and have resorted to going to non tax payers Amazon who have teamed up with Bacheldre mill to supply 16kg bags at a £1 a kilo.
I have only tried it once and it was amazing
I have assuaged my guilt by e-mailing amazon to stop their immoral tax avoidance.

Guest
Daniel says:
24 February 2013

I shop at Tescos, and what I can’t understand is why Tescos value cornflakes sell for 31p, and the normal Tesco cornflakes sell for 1.80 when as far as I can tell there is no difference between them. They are both fortified with the same amount of vitamins and minerals. The sugar and salt content slighty varies with the cheaper brand if memory serves me right actually having slighty less. They are both produced in France for Tescos. The only difference as far as I can tell is that the cheaper brand perhaps has a slightly blander taste, but certainly not tasteless. I don’t understand it, as essentially surely they are made from the same basic ingredient, and yet one is 5 times the price of the other. Can anyone explain this.

Guest
Derek H says:
26 September 2014

No, no, no WHICH?. Real premium pasta costs more than £16 per kilo – as in Filotea linguine and Giusppe Cocco tagliatelle. They take 3 and 4 minutes (respectively) to cook and WOW can you tell the difference.

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Guest

Forget the supermarkets. Meat from the local butcher, fish from the Fish Van (straight from Brixham), bread from the bakers (maybe not cheap but 10x better), fruit and veg from the market, cheese from the cheese stall. You get the idea. Washing/dishwasher tablets from Home Bargains. Cat food and store cupboard stuff from Aldi (cat loves Aldi cat food). Save enough to treat ourselves in Waitrose