/ 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?


Isn’t it interesting that noone from any of the supermarkets targeted have seen fit to reply to our complaints?

brat673 says:
24 August 2012

Many of these practices should have been outlawed years ago but our MPs draft the Acts full of loopholes that they were able to drive a double decker bus through. Have we any faith that this Govt has the will to push through reforms?

Yes, you would think that this would have been put right by now. However, MPs do not draft legislation, lawyers do that, so what does it say about the legal profession. As bad as all this may seem, the UK has some of the best consumer protection in the world, even though some of it is poorly drafted. Unfortunately, whilst there has been a political will to force through tons of legislation as the “solution” to the country’s ills of all kinds, this has not been matched with the legal competence to ensure that the legislation is drafted to be completely effective, nor an adequate system for “policing” to ensure its compliance.

JamesB says:
25 August 2012

The other one that confuses me is when items are reduced or half price or say 3 for 2. Is the price per kilo based on the original price or for just 1 item OR is it the based on the new price or multiple items?

Sometimes I also see two very similar products (even the same brand) where one is in £/kg and othe other is £/100g. Its easy to work out shouldn’t be necessary?!

And often shops want to sell items such as meat and vegtables at a set price. So the shop sets all the weights the same (ie lies) and price per kilo. But I want to know which pack has the most stuff in it for the price I’m paying.

It would help me enormously if the price per kg / 100ml EVEN IF STATED AS ” APPROXIMATELY ”
was shown against offers per unit or multiple units. Or, would this be EU illegal?

Numskull says:
14 September 2012

I admire and support you for championing this cause. Price per article and per (dare I say it) pound or kilo. for packed and individual items and price per 100 gms on all items which are tinned, bottled, wrapped and encapsulated would greatly assist in procuring the “best” or “better” buys.

The price per 100 grams is often used for lighter items. I find it easier to compare when the price is per Kg (1000 grams) often there are these 2 methods in the same shop, and I’m fine with manipulating the decimal point – however not everyone is bright enough to do the maths and PRICE PER Kg should be standard for all weights whether in supermarket, convenience store, or market etc.
For liquid measure such as milk please standardise on Litres (even for 4 pint containers).
Unit prices are acceptable for things always sold by number such as paracetamol; but please not for fruit and vegetables. I cannot tell if a melon is good value unless the price is per Kg as I dont carry a caliper around to measure it, nor do I know the density per unit volume.

Education in schools needs to focus more on unit pricing, and how to compare dissimilar packs, and how it is the little numbers per Killogramme per Liter etc. that make your pocket empty quicker.

If children were taught always to compare on these little numbers, there would be more of a hue and cry about this.

In shops I always focus on the unit prices, re-calculate into Kg, or Litre that way I should know the cheapest; EXCEPT that Tesco have been known the get the unit price wrong as they calculate it manually and not on computer. I noticed a 4 Kg bag of rice priced at $4.50, and unit price at £0.01 per Kg. They wouldn’t let me have it for 4p. 😉

In Sainsbury’s today in Chichester a 250g pack of Red Label tea cost £1.25 and the 500g multipack was £2.75. There wasn’t any label to say it was a special offer and last time I bought the tea the larger pack was cheaper per 100g so why has this been reversed? An honest mistake or trying to fool the shoppers?

As the mulitpack clearly states Bigger Pack better value and it isn’t, that Sainsbury’s are in fact misleading the customer and therefore breaking the law. I’m surprised Tesco is changing the wording on anything it sells to remove that claim so they never break it.

Even if Tesco and others remove labelling that indicates that larger packs are better value, the customer will assume that they are. Ignore the price and look at the unit price on the shelf label.

There are problems to be sorted out with unit pricing, particularly with multi-buy offers, but unit pricing is the best way of finding out what really is best value for money.

Unit pricing is all very well as long as its accurate – I’ve seen unit prices which don’t tally with the selling price before now, and mix in the problem of shrinking packs and supermarket websites not necessarily displaying the pack size you’ll actually get (as happened to me this morning) and it makes a nonsense of the whole thing.

My Mum used to take me shopping with her and I remember her calculating the cost per sheet of toilet roll! Whilst I don’t do this myself it did teach me to check how much things really cost when making comparisons.

Haydon Luke says:
15 July 2013

I really hope that Jo’s initiative bears fruit but I am not holding my breath! Why? Too many vested interests, weak-kneed regulators and watchdogs afraid to act in the public interest.
One really simple and effective move would be to insist on unifrom pricing by weight of fruit and vegetables irrespective of whether the goods are loose or prepacked. Then we’d get away from the nonsense of not knowing whether apples (average price 30p per fruit in a prepack of 6) were more or less expensive than loose apples at £2.40 a kilo. And why aren’t there more scales for customers’ use near the fruit and veg? Apparently the law no longer requires it. Another triumph for deregulation!
Despite their protestations of innocence, supermarkets deliberately use the loopholes in the present pricing regulations to confuse and obfuscate.

Paul B says:
22 July 2013

All of the big four supermarkets use complex unit pricing for fruit and veg which make it extremely difficult to compare the price per pound/ kilogram. Prices can sometimes be double the price! I wrote to Tesco customer service raising this issue, the person who dealt with my enquiry agreed that the pricing structure made it extremely difficult to compare the unit cost of loose and packed produce. The question was passed to the Tesco pricing team, who unsurprisingly decided not to make any changes, whilst citing that their practice is consistent with the legal pricing framework.

All of the supermarkets currently use strap lines such as “Saving you money everyday” “low prices everyday” “helping you to live well for less” etc seem of limited value given the lack of pricing information available to assist the customer. Please can parliament discuss this further?