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Jo Swinson: how together we made supermarkets price it right

Food on supermarket shelves

Jo Swinson has been working with the supermarkets and Which? to make food prices clearer and easier to compare. In this guest post, Jo shares the progress they’ve made and plans for the future.

We’ve all been there before – rushing around a supermarket, trying to get in and out as quickly as possible and thinking of a million other things. We’re distracted by the big, bright signs which are emblazoned with deals and discounts. But are we actually getting the best deal? It’s not always as easy as it should be to check.

In times like this we’re fully aware that hardworking people’s household budgets are being stretched. That’s why, as Consumer Minister, I’ve been championing greater transparency in how supermarkets display the value of everyday items. Little known to many is the detail at the bottom of the label – the ‘unit price’, or the price we’re paying per gram or millilitre. It’s a great way to compare items.

However, it can be confusing. The likes of soups and sauces can be measured sometimes in weight, sometimes in volume. Promotions like ‘three-for-two’ don’t always include the unit price. Popular items, for example, the mince pies sold in their millions at this time of year, can be priced individually or per gram. And on top of this, the labels can be difficult to read for all but the eagle-eyed.

Supermarkets to price it right

That’s why earlier this year I held a roundtable with the industry, major supermarkets and Which? to discuss the matter. The supermarkets have now updated us on their progress which shows that things are improving:

  • All 10 supermarkets are improving the visibility of the labels by increasing font sizes and/or stripping out unnecessary information like barcodes.
  • All of the 10 major supermarkets are committed to making sure that, where it is in their control, unit pricing is consistent across brands and within their own brands.
  • Six out of the 10 supermarkets are going a step further including the unit price on promotions for multi-buys of the same item.

Still more to be done

These are good developments but there is still more to do. On top of this we’re setting up a group, with industry involvement, to look at the legislation to see if it can be improved. And the Government is also calling on brand manufacturers to do their bit by being more consistent on the measurements they use on their labels.

These are steps in the right direction. But if shoppers are really going to get better value with their shopping basket they need all the tools at their disposal to get a fairer deal. It’s a good start but it’s just one way in which we’re working to give shoppers the help they need.

Which? Conversation provides guest spots to external contributors. This is from Consumer Affairs Minister Jo Swinson. All opinions expressed here are Jo’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

PeteM says:
2 March 2014

I recognise that my point is not connected to supermarket pricing but does follow on from Carla Pittau’s experience of Tesco customer service. Am I wrong in thinking that supermarket customer services are failing customers? I have an issue with Asda and after initially agreeing to refund me (3 months ago),for a defective product, Asda HQ are now refusing to respond or answer my correspondence. When I telephone customer services they cannot help because HQ are involved? Anyone any advice as to how to get Asda to respond?


Yesterday went into my Tescos at Church Langley, Harlow. At the end of a row – not a place that grabs your eye – they had cans of complete range of Heinz soup at 60p each, just four feet away they had a huge box with a special promotion of Heinz 4-cans of soup at £3.29. You do the maths!

When I complained about this the assistant said there was nothing they could do, HO was responsible – I said helpfully – sic – “I could go over there and cross out your £3.29 and place a big arrow pointing to the right – where the display for 60p a can was showing” Did not go down well!!