/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Morrisons and Sainsbury’s will Price it Right – who’s next?

fruit with plate and 'price it right' logo

For the second time in as many weeks I’m giving good news – no sooner had we redoubled our efforts to get supermarkets to display clearer unit pricing than two major supermarkets stood up to the challenge.

Morrisons has said it will start rolling out clearer and more consistent unit pricing labels, meaning that when you’re choosing between two similar products you’ll be able to tell at a glance which one represents the best value.

This is really important given that people all over the country are struggling with their budgets – we need to be able to tell whether a special offer genuinely offers better value, so we can get the most for our money.

By the end of 2013, all Morrisons stores will have shelf-edge labels showing a large, clear price per litre or kilo for products, such as in the example to the left. And it isn’t alone – Sainsbury’s has also announced that it’s trialling clearer unit pricing in stores, with the aim of moving to a clearer system.

Two down, more to go

One of the things I’ve learnt in the last (almost) two years working on Which? Campaigns is that it is really valuable when one or two companies take the lead on something. It’s all very well us calling for simpler energy tariffs or genuinely fixed mobile contracts, but often the thing that prevents change is that the industry cannot see how to make the changes.

We’re met with worries and concerns that if they make the change it will put them at a commercial disadvantage, that the changes are too difficult or expensive etc. But these concerns often melt away when they see that other companies are able to step up to the plate.

The question we’re asking supermarkets changes from ‘could you give us clearer unit pricing?’ to ‘if they can do it, why can’t you?’ And that’s really exciting for campaigners – the domino effect can be powerful – especially in industries where giving customers what they want can have a huge impact on businesses.

Misleading supermarket prices?

By taking steps to implement clearer unit pricing, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons are showing that they’ve listened to their customers. Our research, released this week, showed that 74% of people feel misled by supermarket prices. Personally, I’m annoyed that the lack of unit pricing makes it harder to distinguish the genuine deals from the ones that just shout ‘Buy me! Buy me! I’m on special offer!’

Customers aren’t stupid – we’re savvy and getting even savvier as our budgets get squeezed further. We know that somewhere, among all of the big bright ‘2 for 1!’ labels, there are real bargains – the question is just finding them. It seems from our research that people feel these are a little too hidden at the moment, and one of the best ways for a supermarket to show that it is listening to customers is to help them find these deals.

Clearer unit pricing means that you’ll be able to compare like-for-like items (and we’d like this to include all special offers) by weight or volume. You won’t need to choose between a 2-for-1 on 400g of cheese at £3.29 or a cheaper 500g of cheese at £2.10. Unit prices will mean that next to each product there’ll be a clear label saying £4.11 per kilo or £4.20 per kilo. Hey presto – you know which is the better value cheese.

So, this post is partly a celebration and partly a challenge. I’m delighted that one of the campaigns I’ve been working on for months has helped two supermarkets make the right decision on unit pricing – so well done to Morrisons and Sainsbury’s. And I’m perhaps even more pleased that we can extend the challenge further – Tesco, Asda, Aldi, Lidl, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer et al – what are you waiting for? If the others can do it, then why can’t you?


This is good news so far as it goes. I won’t be sitting on the edge of my seat waiting for M&S to follow suit. It’s not in their tradition and still – despite recognising that food is currently their salvation – they feel that their customers are not price sensitive [and perhaps they don’t wish to appeal to that segment]. Up to now in many city centres [the buy on the way home from work market] they have enjoyed a freedom from adjacent competition or if there is any it’s an overcrowded poorly-stocked Tesco. But now, with other operators opening more and better town centre stores within walking distance [eg in former Woolworth buidings], they’ll have to improve their appeal to the average budget-conscious shopper.

The article did not mention The Cooperative which, following the Somerfield takeover, is now a major player in the grocery market especially for those who prefer the simpler stores, modest range and emphasis on good value for good quality. Their labelling is already quite good but they could do better, particularly to standardise the units used for comparative pricing and to clarify their offers.

hoppingpinkrabbit says:
7 September 2012

Its not just clearer labelling- its labels which are actually correct!

Recently in Tesco a packet of ham read £2.00 for 130g or… £1 per 100g. I don’t think so…then there are offers- how do you know if the prices are inclusive of the discounts for multi-buys or not? What if you don’t want to buy 12 mullerlights and only want 1. Will the label work out this per 100g too?

And then there are the products which just don’t compare like with like, working out an item price rather then a weight price….wouldn’t it not just be easier if they just priced items fairly and we didn’t have to worry about being ripped off…

I may be wrong but I believe that the unit pricing refers to the single item in Tesco. Most people would by the offer, so the unit price on the offer would be more useful.

I have a Tesco label from last year. A six pack of Seabrook Crisps for £1.28 or two for £2.00. Fair enough, but the unit price is given as an amazing £21.34 per 100g. I removed the label from the shelf to hand in at Customer Services but forgot, so it is a nice little memento of corporate silliness. If I was employed as a supermarket shelf stacker I would look out for these mistakes, in a desperate desire for something to tax the brain cells.

Richard says:
8 October 2012

I agree with the comment posted on 7 September that unit pricing has to be correct. I did an on-line shop with Tesco and discovered in their fresh turkey section that out of about 10 products 6 were incorrectly unit priced. One, a pack of 380 g priced at £4 per pack, was shown as £8/kg. Clearly it is not! Even the most mathematically challenged amongst us can work out that buying 2 packs costs £8 and you would have less than 800 g of turkey. I phoned customer services and told them about each item wrongly unit priced and commented that this was just in the section I had checked. I was assured that this would be addressed by their department, but I cannot recall being thanked for drawing it to their attention, and actually got the impression I was making a fuss for nothing.

What is the point of unit pricing at all if it is wrong? At best it is pointless and confusing; at worst it is directly misleading customers into making purchases that they wouldn’t otherwise make.

Personally if things are on special offer I tend to look a bit closer anyway. Two things in Tesco that really does bug me is unit pricing in a mix of 1 kg, 100 g and also displayed in price per lb, worsened by being in different size and type of font on different items. I recently almost got caught out on this. Mostly their kg unit pricing is predominantly larger that the lb price (I thought this had to be so by law?), but with one item with both the same size, and being in between reading and distance glasses range I mistook the lb price on an item and compared it to a kg price on one nearby. I was not amused as in this particular instance it seemed deliberate that the lb price was made the same size as the kg price, out of sequence to the others. Now, is there really anyone out there that genuinely needs the price in lbs when everything is sold by the kg? As a mature OAP I think not.
The second is the wine pricing. Just because most wine is in 75 cl bottles it should NOT be unit priced per 75 cl, that I am sure must be illegal, especially as it is next to the boxed wine which is priced correctly per litre. That makes comparisons a little more difficult.

I like the fact you’re enthusiastic about this, but by the end of 2013. Is it really that difficult, I think not.

The next time a supermarket changes a products price, is the ideal time to update the unit pricing for all like products. And as we all know prices change almost weekly. I’m sure if they truly wanted to help the consumer they’d be able to do this alot quicker.

The fact that virtually no supermarket can hold their hand up and say look we’re doing it right across the board, I guess it could take them a while to decide on a sensible pricing.

The other sad thing about this is the fact that as they’re all going to do doing this piecemeal, is I can see different supermarkets adopting different unit prices, as that’ll be about the only way they’ll still be able to mislead the consumer.

Maybe which? could list products with a guideline unit price as we can try and fend off that.

By the end of 2013!! Yes, why not by the end of the month? How hard can it be.

I can only say that I have shopped at Sainsburys for many years – I can’t remember when they didn’t give unit prices – particularly for dog food. I started buying the multi packs (rather than a specific number of packs) when I noticed the break down on the shelves – This I repeat was years ago.

There’s an entire category of unit pricing problems where price per 100 ml is next to price per litre. I’ve seen this with two different bottles of olive oil. I’ve also seen it when trying to compare uncooked and cooked prices of meat/fish.

It’s sometimes because the staff haven’t complied with the law (in the case of the edible oil). It’s sometimes because staff have complied (the law requires cooked meat/fish to be priced differently to uncooked meat/fish).

The law generally requires per kg/litre but there are lots of exceptions. These exceptions make it harder for customers to compare and it makes it harder for low paid staff to implement without training/supervision. The exceptions are called “relevant units of quantity” and listed at:

I understand the objective of each exception was to keep the relevant unit of quantity close to the item size. But I think it underestimates the ability of customers to accept unit price per kg/litre for small items. I think it also underestimates the benefits of simple rules in terms of ease of implementation for staff and ease of comparison for customers (which is the whole point).

Please get the government to trim the list of exceptions.

My comment is a little off topic, but when we have chance to get it right…well.. we should get it right. Call me a picky metric geek if you must, but there are two errors on the label you have shown as an example in your article.
1) Where the label states..EGG TAGLIATELLE 500G .. 500G should be 500 g. The metric symbol g (lower case) is the international symbol for gram. It should also be separated from the amount (500) by a space to show that its not part of the amount.
2) Where the label states..a price per kg.. it should be price/kg ..(not per).
Although metric labeling on food packaging, cans, bottles, etc, follow strict regulations, there appears to be no such regulations for supermarket shelf labels.

A bit pedantic for the average supermarket shopper yes, but one would like to think a multi national and/or multi mega-buck chain could read a specification and apply it without too much of a problem.
We can only live and hope that lesser retailers and the media could also get it right every now and again and set a better example to the populace. 1 Gg is one tonne.

w j g

Price per kg is perfectly acceptable alternative to price/kg. The solidus (slash) means ‘per’ in this context. Obviously it would be inconsistent (and therefore wrong) to mix them.

I agree with you about the other example.

What also needs sorting out is which products should be measured by weight or volume.
Ocado has bird seed measured in litres. Similar sauces can be grams or litres so are uncomparable.
Liquids should be measured by volume, and solid products should be measured by weight.

Whilst I agree with this in part, there is a bit of a problem in when does something stop being a liquid and becomes a solid, ie a mix of sauce and substance in it. Seed is often measured in fluid measures so when does the cross over between wheat for sowing (or seed for birds) and sweet corn for eating take place?
The other point is that one big advantage of the metric system is that weight and volume ARE directly related, a 1 L bottle of water is every bit as correct if sold as 1 kg of water, so your comment about being uncomparable is not really valid. This is very different from the ‘good old days’ when they were in lbs and fluid ounces.

alfa wrote:
>”What also needs sorting out is which products should be measured by weight or volume.”

Packages containing liquid products shall be marked with the nominal quantity by volume and packages containing other products shall be marked with the nominal quantity by weight except where the law provides otherwise or, in the absence of a legal requirement, trade practice provides otherwise.

What amazes me is the number of people in the country who can’t count! I constantly see people pick up the expensive item, for example: broccoli in plastic wrap roughly 2/3 more expensive than the loose stuff just because they can’t figure the price difference out. I’m not talking about those who are just not bothered and don’t shop with price in mind but those who can’t or can’t be bothered to use their head.

I worked in retail for many years. The shopping experience is designed for maximum profit. End of. If supermarkets all follow suit with labelling they will think up something else to con us….. eggs and bread at the back, veg under different lighting, wine and beer on the isles to the checkouts, offers on the wide lanes cross the supermarket, sweets at kid height, high profit goods at head height, ‘half price’ cons. Next time your in a supermarket try just buying the things on your list – not easy.

You have to commend them, there are some clever people working for shops.

Allowance has to be made for the human mind set.
My brain is in quite a different state when in a supermarket aisle than when it is in front of a computer spreadsheet.

This initiative is to be commended. To be quite honest I thought we more or less had this already from my experience. Yes, the special offers are sometimes not unit priced but I’m even seeing this already. The area I have issue with is where the units are very specific to a product type and there can be more than one option. One example is toilet rolls. The packs themselves will often have no of sheet, size of sheet and total area. To my mind the best comparison as it truly relates to how much you are buying is area so unit pricing should be per square metre. Another difficult product is clothes washing liquid or powder. Again there is only one real solution and that is to price per wash, this would need to be standardised on say medium hardness and soiling. The manufacturers already give the no of washes prominently on the packaging but I find this product the most taxing to my mental arithmetic.

An interesting product that the supermarkets already seem to be unit pricing sensibly is Weetabix. They price per ‘biscuit’. Of course alternative brands might have different bisuit sizes but you can check this for yourself.

The other great thing about unit pricing is it sometimes shows the irony of a special offer or multibuy still not being cheaper than some other pack size.

My branch of Waitrose does display unit prices but inconsistently and not always legibly and sometimes inconveniently e.g. on the bottom shelf next to the floor! There is room for improvement.

I buy nuts and seeds regularly from various supermarkets but in my area Sainsbury and Morrison are generally the cheapest. However nuts can often be found in different areas of the store – baking section, snack section etc. and surprise surprise at different prices and different weights so the unit price is essential.

Ahh! One of my favourite hates!
Nuts for eating and nuts for cooking.
Different places in the store, different packaging, different price structure, same nuts.
Drives me nuts. Go for the baking section every time.

Rev'd Paul A Newman says:
20 September 2012

Keep on……. keeping on!
For ethical reasons I shop as much as possible with the Co-operative. As a member I aim to be considerate and supportive of customer-facing staff while persisting when needed in exercising a democratic right both to encourgage and even demand (with little success!) that we trade up to the high standard in accord with the Group Board’s Ethical Policy. Sometimes proving slightly awkward at store level, out of common rather than personal interest. Honest!
OK I’m a sanctimonious “…….” !

Kiran K says:
20 September 2012

I think this is fantastic news. The one thing that will help me as I am always trying to compare prices – many times unsuccessfuly.
I would like to see multiple pricing – per unit and per weight,
For example for multi pack yoghurt pots I would like to see price per pots (so that I can compare it to different quatity packs), AND price per 100g (so that I can compare with different weight pots).

I wish Which? would campaign against the insidious and ever more widespread practice of charging significantly much for single items compared to multi-buys.

The “Any 3 for 2” and similar offers discriminate viciously against single people, especially for perishable products such as fresh fruit and vegetables. It’s become almost impossible to complete even a small shopping list without being hit by these massive and unjustifiable surcharges, and it’s also a big disincentive to try anything new. They just load the price for one item dramatically to force you to buy three, four, five or whatever.

Similarly, the “Save 10p per litre when you spend £60” and similar offers discriminate against single people and those who prefer to buy fresh on a daily basis rather than buying frozen or tinned once a week.

40% of households are single people, so why do all the supermarkets target them for these massive rip-offs? Discrimination against almost every other group is banned, so why are singles excluded?

Agree… absolutely dreadful… all supermarkets do it
w/out exception all of the time.

Cashbags says:
25 November 2012

I agree completely with Gerry. I myself have taken this up with managers of our local supermarkets and the reply in each case was “it is the majority of customers that want the multi buy offers”. If the supermarkets were to reduce the price to that of a single unit, on say, 3 for 2 offers, then everybody would be equal. Think of the majority of the population, it is said that the elderly are in the majority and if this is the case they do not want to buy three of this or three of that. In my opinion the elderly are being disciminated against as they usually don’t have anywhere to store large amounts of food etc.

Hello, if you’d like to reply to a comment, please make sure you use the ‘reply’ button and not ‘report this comment’ as this simply alerts as to when something might be wrong with the comment. Thanks!

Meirionydd says:
3 October 2012

Celery’s nothing! If you really want to see examples of price obfuscation you should look at how Sainsbury’s prices its tomatoes. To make a judgement everything has to be weighed – if you can find a flimsy plastic bag for the loose ones and then trek to the scales in the distance. Then you need a calculator unless you can do it it your head. It really is a deliberate attempt to mislead and, I am quite sure, a deliberate attempt to make it as difficult as possible to buy mostly cheaper loose goods. If you can’t work out what things cost and the bottom falls out of your 5lb bag of loose potatoes it’s dishonest manipulation and certainly unfair trading.

I have noticed that several supermarkets are selling fruit amd veg. per item.
e.g 4 apples for £2, without any idea what weight they are. As Meirionydd mentioned previously, you need to find scales (if there are any available) to work it out. I also noticed a trend for prepacked meat etc without a price per Kg on the pack sticker. so more mental arithmetic is required. Is all these legal?

I hope Aldi &lidl Join the Clear Prices both offer food generally at reasonable prices most of the time although sometimes e.g.Bananas priced per Kilo for a large bunch of yet for 3 Bananas it is in grams not for good financially hard pressed Parents perhaps can only afford the 3 Pack but it still should say on the price Label the Price Per Kilo a lot of Responsible Parents go without so their children can have a piece of Fruit.Also the Single pensioner who still thinks in lbs it confuses them as well.Put it Right should be the Shout!.

I recently noticed that Tesco were selling corn on the cobs in a pack of 3 on ‘offer’ for £2 but loose ones were 2 for a £1 meaning you could buy 4 for £2!