/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Why clearer unit pricing is on my shopping list

In this guest post, Jo Swinson MP explains why she supports Which?’s campaign for clearer unit pricing in supermarkets, and is sponsoring a Private Members’ Bill to encourage the government to take action.

Everyone’s feeling the squeeze at the moment. Prices are going up with pay not keeping up, so making your money go further is more important than ever.

We all want to get the best deals at the supermarket, but it’s not always straightforward. Are those bananas cheaper individually or in a bunch? Is that ‘buy one get one free’ offer really a bargain or would buying just one larger pack be better value?

Let’s get unit pricing in parliament

That’s why I’ve introduced a Bill on unit pricing in parliament, taking up the challenge of Which?’s Price it Right campaign. The Bill will make supermarkets use clear and simple price labels that feature visible and user-friendly unit prices to help people save money.

We should all be able to go into a supermarket and quickly and easily be able to tell which apples, jars of mayonnaise or boxes of cereal are better value for money.

With busy working and family lives, finding time to whizz round the supermarket is enough of a chore without stopping to do mathematical calculations. For people who are trying to shop with excitable young children or for those who find it difficult to see the unit price because it’s often very small, this is so much harder.

No one likes the feeling of having the wool pulled over their eyes, so it’s always annoying when special offers turn out to be nothing more than a marketing ploy – even more so if you only notice this once you’ve got home with the shopping!

Make it clear and consistent

Improving unit pricing is one simple thing that the government can do that will have a big impact on all of us – making it easier to save money on a regular basis.

To help get my Bill through parliament, I’m working with Which? to build a groundswell of support. I’m asking my fellow MPs to join me in writing to the minister responsible for pricing, and telling our constituents about the campaign.

Have you signed the pledge yet? The more people who sign, the more likely it is that we will succeed. I want to make sure supermarkets price it right.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Jo Swinson MP – all opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?


If this is such a good idea, why aren’t supermarkets doing it already? Perhaps they could explain. They’re there to meet public demand. Do they want to conceal their best bargains from the public, in case the public buy too many? (probably not). I predict that, if this becomes the law, unintended consequences (labelling expenses? enforcement costs?) will make us at best no better off. I go further – let’s apply the Precautionary Principle! Let no change be made until it can be proved that there will be no adverse consequences!


They’re not there to meet public demand, but to create it and manipulate it according to their maximum profit. Your average Which reader is probably more savvy and/or has more time than the average harassed woman, fitting in shopping between work and household. The supermarket bosses are very smart and have all the time in the world to think up new ploys to trick her into spending more money. Personally as a retired person I have time to think about my shopping and can avoid supermarkets as much as possible.

I agree with the idea of the Precautionary Principle, though predicting possible c onsequences is nearly impossible. Clear standardised unit pricing can surely do no harm.


maaji, thanks for your comment. I am less cynical, or more naive than you (or both). I think the prime objective of supermarkets is to make profits by meeting their customers’ needs – and that meeting real needs will work better than tricking people (I told you I was naive!). If their customers want unit pricing, I would expect it to be provided. Supermarkets offer bargains in order to sell goods, and (it seems to me that) when they offer bargains they will want to make this as clear as possible. You might think that standardised pricing could do no harm (I thought this about GM food, but ‘Which’ doesn’t agree with me), so let me offer some possibilities:
More regulations will mean extra expense for shops (regulations are not to be multiplied without necessity). Who will pay? – customers!
Regulations will need to be enforced, adding to public sector expenses
Parliamentary time will be wasted that could more profitably be spent over something else.

But perhaps we can agree that, given that at least some supermarkets are not doing this, it would help if they would explain to us why they don’t?

Haydon Luke says:
18 August 2012

Can’t agree with your arguments, Tim. The present labelling and unit pricing regs are a mess, are not in the public interest and need revising. Your point about the cost of new labelling is spurious given that manufacturers happily produce new packaging very frequently for their own reasons in order to persuade us that some aspect of their product is ‘new’ or ‘improved’ or a ‘new size’ which is usually camouflage for ‘smaller but at the same price you used to pay’. And customers already pay for those changes since the costs are just part of the price you pay at the checkout. Since we already pay for these things, let us at least get a system that is open, fair and transparent and which doesn’t give the vendors countless opportunities to mislead and otherwise bamboozle hard pressed shoppers.
As to parliamentary time being more profitably spent on something else; what do you suggest? Clearly in the global scheme of things, yes, some other things are more important such as climate change and world peace but it is naive to think that those issues will be forced off the agenda by debating food labelling and pricing regulations. If something (whether big or small) is not fit for purpose, as the current regulations are not, then it is time to change them.


When my local Tesco had Sweetex 600 tablets pack on offer it was still showing the same price per unit as the 1200 pack, yet you could get 2 of the 600s for less than the price of the 1200.

The units they had chosen to use, wonder if you can guess …

per tablet ( 0.3p per tablet ) when clearly per 100 tablets would have been a better start.

Do we know who decides on the units to use in the price per unit, the supermarket, the manufacturer or a magic 8 ball ?


went to Sainsbury’s in Norwich yesterday. I needed some Bramley apples. Loose Bramleys were £1.55 a kilo and a pack of 5 £1.80 As there was no weight per kilo on the pack I weighed it on nearby scales and to my surprise the weight was one kilo, about 16% more!

Chris says:
16 August 2012

Supermarkets always put the price per kilo on the label or the unit price which makes finding the cheapest easily, but usually in very small letters, if by law these were the same size as the actual price there would be no problem.


“Supermarkets always put the price per kilo on the label ” They don’t that’s the point. Next time look at say apples, loose will be price per KG as will some bagged ones, other bagged apples will be priced per unit. This means you have to weigh them to compare and in my experience the bags of X number of apples priced each are more that the one’s priced per KG.

The whole point is to get a common price by weight or volume so you can make a quick informed decision on which one to buy.