/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Clearer supermarket prices for all!

Ketchup and Banana with food labels

All major supermarkets in the UK have agreed to improve the way they display prices in-store. This is a big victory for our Price It Right campaign and means it’ll soon be easier to compare prices.

Great news! The Government today announced that all 10 UK supermarkets have committed to making their pricing clearer and simpler for shoppers.

Our research has repeatedly shown that people are concerned about rising food prices, and that they’re having to shop around to get the best deals. In fact, our survey found that six in 10 people have changed their food shopping habits due to rising food prices.

People told us that they were having to compare prices more carefully, and yet the way prices were displayed in shops wasn’t helping.

Our mystery shopping of supermarkets revealed that the unit price – which is supposed to enable you to compare the price of products based on the same unit (eg per Kg or per litre) – wasn’t working as intended. We found that the unit price was often hard to read, given in inconsistent units or just simply missing.

Clearer supermarket prices

Our Price It Right campaign, which launched in 2012, called on supermarkets to take action and make their pricing simpler and easier to read. Some responded quicker than others. In July 2013, Aldi, The Co-operative, Morrisons and Waitrose were the first to agree to take action in the three areas we identified – consistency, legibility and displaying the unit price on special offers. Sainsbury’s also improved the display of its labels and looked at clearer pricing for fruit and vegetables.

The announcement today, however, means that all 10 of the main supermarkets have committed to improving the visibility of their labels and to providing more consistent unit pricing. Six have also said that they’ll put the unit price on special offers so that people stand a better chance of working out if they’re really better value or not.

We’ll be monitoring the progress that the supermarkets are making – and with unit pricing improvements secured, we will now focus on ensuring that the supermarkets also get their act together on misleading special offers. You can help by signing our latest petition, and by sharing any dodgy deals you spot on supermarket shelves.


What are you going to do about buy 1 get 1 free offers and sales where prices are put up for a few weeks then dropped on special offer?


You don’t have to take up any offers if you don’t want them – such as bogof. As for “sale” prices, we need to ensure that the regulations are followed.When they are not, they should be publicised and worthwhile penalties imposed – as with Tesco and strawberries. Consumers should help by drawing attention to these, to, for example, Which and trading standards. I don’t buy the excuse that “we sell a lot of products and mistakes are sometimes made”. Supermarkets are very professional marketeers and know what they are doing; persistent offenders should be exposed.


Congratulations to Which? on this success, and please keep up the pressure on supermarkets to help their customers.

Of course you don’t have to take up the ‘two for the price of one’ and similar offers for fresh food, many are being put under the pressure of either paying a lot for the individual item or taking up the offer and risking wasting food, or over-eating in order to consume it while it is still fresh.

I have no problem with these offers on other goods but not on fresh food. Perhaps Which? could start a new campaign. A lot of people would be grateful, for example those struggling to make ends meet or just living on their own and not really able to benefit from these offers.


Why do we assume that people need someone else to decide for them whether or not they can buy an offer? Surely they can decide for themselves. Those who can benefit from an offer should do so if they choose to, those who won’t benefit simply buy something more appropriate. As you can tell, I believe people should be allowed to exercise freedom of choice and not have the State (or anyone else) dictate how they should behave.


You and I can work out whether an offer is good value for money even if we are not given the unit price for the special offer. Some are not so fortunate and – as I have said before – we should consider the disabled and the elderly.

I have spoken to people who have worked in supermarkets and been told that making pricing difficult to understand is a deliberate ploy to encourage customers to buy more and spend more money.

I have no problem with supermarkets competing on prices but making it difficult for customers to understand pricing is not on. This is a real issue for many customers who are struggling to make ends meet or just don’t want to be cheated.


I have no problem with condemning shops that mislead with pricing. My issue is when we seem to underestimate the ability of most people to make judgements on information and offers that are presented clearly. I don’t see that disabled or elderly people should be singled out as having lost these faculties.
What really worries me is that there is some complacency that simple arithmetic tasks, and basic judgements, are somehow too great a challenge for us and we should dumb everything down to avoid using these basic skills . There must be something fundamentally wrong with our education system if these “life skills” are not acquired at an early age.
Education should address the practical issues we will face in life – including finances.


Lack of numeracy was one of my greatest concerns during my career in science teaching in universities. I produced teaching materials for use by colleagues and for self-help, both on paper and online. I worked with support services to identify how they could provide tailored face-to-face support for struggling students on a confidential basis. I noticed that Greek students tended to be much better than the average home or overseas students at handling numbers and was told that they had not been allowed to use calculators at school. No doubt there are other reasons for the marked decline in numeracy since the 70s. Scientists and engineers who handle numbers on a regular basis will improve their skills through practice, albeit later in life than their elders.

Not everyone shares our concern that a fair proportion of the population is not good at arithmetic. Some could say that numeracy is not very relevant to life in the 21st century. I don’t agree, but at least I now acknowledge that it is not necessary to learn to touch-type to work at a keyboard.

Having studied the issue of supermarket pricing for years, I believe that the majority of people do struggle. I don’t believe that we should force people to try to improve their numeracy by making supermarket pricing more complicated. As people get older they often lose skills and it is predicted that 135 people will be living with dementia by 2050. Not all disabilities are mental, but let’s not make life any harder than it is for the disabled.

All the major supermarkets have agreed to improve how they show their prices and hopefully the latest petition will achieve more in the fight for fair treatment of customers.


“Six have also said that they’ll put the unit price on special offers so that people stand a better chance of working out if they’re really better value or not.”

I’m very glad of this, as it has been a major problem for us in Tesco. I hope they’re one of the six and look forward to wasting less time in the toilet paper and tissues aisle.