/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Misleading special offers still on supermarket shelves

Put an end to misleading pricing

It’s been nearly a month since we submitted our super-complaint on supermarket pricing, and we’re still finding more evidence of misleading pricing tactics on supermarket shelves.

You may have seen last month that Which? made a super-complaint (PDF 4.7Mb) to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) about misleading and opaque pricing practices used by supermarkets.

We’re now at Day 29 out of the 90 days the CMA has to formally respond to our concerns and are continuing to unearth more evidence that the problem isn’t just isolated mistakes (as the supermarkets claim).

In a new investigation published today we’ve found yet more examples of misleading offers on the shelves of Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, along with some offers at Boots and Superdrug, that have raised eyebrows in the Which? office.

Not-so special offers

As an example (and not to pick on it particularly), at Asda we found that two litres of Pepsi spent most of the year sold at 98p or £1, except when Asda wanted to put it on offer. It then increased the individual price of a bottle to £1.98 while selling it as part of a deal at ‘2 for £3’.

Asda did this several times during 2014 and early 2015. So, for those of you who bought your Pepsi at Asda on this offer, you saved nothing and were, in fact, £1 worse off.

Products shrinking in size

We also found more evidence of products shrinking in size but not in price. For example, a box of 100 Twinings Assam tea bags was £4.40 in Tesco but, when the pack shrunk to 80, the price increased to £4.49. In Sainsbury’s the price of the tea bags remained the same (£4.50) despite the loss of 20 tea bags.

It’s pricing tactics like these that we’ve spent many years trying to resolve by working with the supermarkets and others. The lack of progress drove us to use our legal powers and compel the CMA to look into the market.

What pricing practices we asked the CMA to look at

Essentially: enough was enough and we asked the CMA to look at misleading and opaque pricing practices such as:

  • Confusing and misleading special offers
  • A lack of easily comparable prices because of the way unit pricing is being done
  • Shrinking pack sizes without a corresponding price reduction.

The CMA announced this week that it will be publishing its response on Monday, 20 July. With just over 60 days to go, we’re still finding problems on the shelves of the major supermarkets. But will the CMA take action? We’ll find out soon enough.

Have you spotted any pricing tactics that really wind you up? And if you agree it’s time to put an end to misleading pricing, please sign our petition and share it with your friends.

wev says:
20 May 2015

I’m not sure if this still happens, but Original Source use to make two versions of their shower gel. At the launch start of every flavour, they would stock a thick version with little water and a lot of flavourings and scent on supermarket shelves. Then months later when the supermarkets were putting them on to buy one, get one free offers, they would take the thick ones off the shelves if they hadn’t already run out, and sell weak, watery ones with very little flavourings and scent.

Maybe Which can check this from time to time to see if it still happens? And are they allowed to do that anyway?

John Gibson says:
22 May 2015

Do you eat shower gel ? what is this about ‘ flavourings’ ?


The example of tea pricing compared to Pepsi is perhaps not that strong as tea is a natural material rather than water laced with chemicals.

In March 2014 tea per kilo was 237cents and in March 2015 it was 307cents per kilo so nearly 30% more expensive. It would therefore seem natural that there would be some price movement for the finished articles even allowing for hedging against delivery.

I think there needs some care in picking targets to make sure they are legitimately moving either price or amount packaged.

In 2010-11-12 where there was speculation in foodstocks what did Which? do? I thought I should know but cannot find anything.but that might be a fault in the search facility.

“Chief executive of Unilever, Paul Polman, January 2011: “One of the main things in food inflation is that it has attracted the speculators for short-term profit at the expense of people living a dignified life. It is difficult to understand that if you really want to work for the long-term interests of society.”

Chief executive of Starbucks, Howard Schultz, May 2011: “Without any real supply or demand issues we are witness to the fact that most agricultural food commodities are at record highs at once, and coffee is at a 34-year high. Through financial speculation … the commodities market is in a very unfortunate position.”

John Gibson says:
22 May 2015

Soltan ‘dry touch’ suncare lotion at Boots. Large sign ‘SAVE! 2 for £11’
Normal price – £5.50 each. So, no saving at all. Misleading, untrue, cheating, disgraceful trading practice.


Unit pricing was introduced to make it easy for shoppers to compare prices. For items I purchase regularly, I pay attention to unit prices rather than the price of a packet, etc. In Tesco, the smallest bottles of HP Sauce are almost always the best value for money.

Unfortunately, I often find mistakes in unit pricing in Tesco. If there is no sales assistant nearby I remove the shelf label and take it to Customer Services. Some of the errors are not very obvious but some are absurd. For example, I once found a 650g tin of Fox’s biscuits marked £5.00 and the unit price was shown as 76.9p each. How did they arrive at this figure? I still have the shelf label because I forgot to hand it in.


wavechange, presumably each biscuit weighed 100g (one broken)? No wonder obesity is on the increase.


Maybe the chocolate ones stuck together. 🙂


Lets have a Wall of Shame for these cheating offers. And a group to email HO with the proof of their contempt for their customers.

Not that I a great believer in committees and due process …..


Just another example of why we need an effective Trading Standards organisation to clamp down on this malpractice.
In the meantime perhaps Which? could organise as many willing subscribers / members as possible to routi