/ Food & Drink

Why’s it so hard to work out the cost of a banana?

Illustration asking how much for a banana?

Seven mini bananas will cost you 99p for the bunch (or 14.1p each). Loose bananas cost 68p per kg. From this information, can you work out what’s cheapest to buy? Welcome to world of confusing supermarket unit pricing.

With a busy job and excitable children, a visit to the supermarket needs to be a simple and speedy affair.

I don’t have the time to pore over supermarket shelves to work out the best price for my purchases.

Unit pricing is a great idea in theory. It’s a useful tool for people to compare food prices and choose the best value product.

But our research shows unclear and inconsistent use of unit prices in supermarkets is preventing cash-strapped consumers from being able to work out which products are cheapest.

Supermarket sweep

We sent our supermarket shoppers on a mission to visit all the major supermarkets at a number of locations across the UK to see the extent of the problem.

Their research highlighted some interesting issues – for a start, unit pricing was sometimes being used by referencing the quantity and sometimes the weight. What’s more, they were often not being shown for multi-buys or promotions and some pricing was too small to read – or non-existent.

Along with the banana example we found red peppers in 500g packs on sale for £2.09 or £4.18 per kg next to packs of three mixed peppers priced at £1.65 or 56p each. Confused? Don’t worry, so am I. These are just a couple of examples we found – see more in our gallery (for further information about each image, visit our Flickr page):


Clear, consistent food pricing

Which? wants clear, consistent food pricing where the unit price is prominent and easy to read. We also want consistency in the units used on all products and for multi-buys and promotions to show the unit price.

Is unit pricing a bugbear of yours? We’re going to up the pressure on government and retailers in the coming months to simplify unit pricing for you.

If you feel strongly about the issue we’d love your views or examples of confusing unit pricing. If you’ve caught the issues on camera, tweet us your photo or email it to which.campaigns@which.co.uk. We’ll add the best of the bunch to our online gallery.

tricia m says:
24 November 2011

the other issue is location of offers, and location of goods. if the offers are at the end of aisle, and not also represented in their “proper” place, then there is a walk and a memory feat to find out whether this is the best deal or the larger (or smaller!) size would be better. the other thing i have noticed is that things like tinned tomatoes, juices and spices appear in various places in the supermarket as organic, ethnic, general foods. so indian tinned tomatoes are in the ethnic aisle at 3 for a pound and italian tomatoes are in the vegetable aisle at 50p a tin (or vice versa). Large packs of spices are in ethnic aisle for 60p; small bottles in the spice racks at 60p and no sign to say “if you want a large refill pack go to aisle 8”.

I regularly visit canada and find the deals better if they have a product they are offering at say
4 for 4 dollars and you only want one they can only charge you 1 dollar

This allows single people to get the benefit of offers without far more of a product than they can cope with

In Morrisons they often price potatoes ( and other items) per Kg, and then another variety in lbs. So I end up converting at 2.2lbs per Kg, but its actually wasting my time and just so annoying. Especially when you work out that its meant to evade the purpose of the law and confuse.
My opinion now is the larger companies all have people employed to screw more from their customers, even when it means being deceitful, or contrary to the law, until they are stopped from doing it.
I am tired of this attitude from companies, wary of dealing with them.
Prime example of screwing customers? Gas in 14Kg propane cylinders costs £25 in the Uk, but 17 euros (converts to about £15) in Spain. A 60% increase in the Uk.
In other words, all the companies are bang at it one way or another, this way of pricing in supermarkets is just another example.

Nail them Which!!

Hughster says:
24 November 2011

Absolutely agree. This creeping practice of pricing some items per lb when everything else is priced per kg is clearly intended to prevent customers from comparing prices in and out of store and should be banned. There is no place for multiple measurement systems in product pricing.

Anne Godfrey says:
25 November 2011

Have a look at the Ocado site it is often difficult to finf the cheapest. Sometines it is priced by kilo othertimes by simple price and yet other times multiple prices. I found dishwasher tabs where it was cheaper to buy 2 smaller packs rahter than one large pack even though the large pack was on offer . Had to do Maths myself. Do not always have time

One of my pet hates is when supermarkets sell things that are labelled something like “Family Size Bargain Pack” that actually work out to be more expensive than the standard product.
One example that I can think of is ASDA selling 1.5 litre cartons of Tropicana orange labelled at £2.49 but being sold on offer at £2.00. Beside them they have 2.0 litre cartons, labelled by the manufacturer in upper-case letters as “BIGGER PACK BETTER VALUE” and selling at £3.49.
So, six litres consisting of four 1.5 litre cartons cost £9.96, reduced to £8.00 or if it consists of three “better value” 2.0 litre cartons it costs £10.47.
I’ve also noticed similar situations with multi-packs. I can’t remember the actual prices, but one example is Heinz Baked Beans where the manufacturer’s 4-pack regularly costs more than 4 individual cans. Over the years I’ve seen this situation with many products.
Another thing (which might be a bit off-topic) is cigarettes. When I buy my usual brand from any of my local “corner shops”, they are without exception clearly marked on the cellophane wrapper, in lettering about 1 inch high, “£5.63”. When I was too late for the local shop recently I went to Tesco and for the same brand was charged £5.87 for a pack with no price printed on it. If the manufacturer is specially packing products for the supermarkets so that they can charge more, does this constitute some form of cartel?

The other thing to watch out for with multipacks is they quite often don’t contain the same size product as the individual items. I recall multipacks of mars bars are actually smaller than the single bars.

And at the weekend packaged cheese in tesco, some priced per kilo the odd ones priced per 100g. You sure need to be on your guard when shopping. 🙁

All consumers are targets.These companies have teams of people working full-time devising ways to con more money out of you.
Sitting ducks get hit more often.Get smart, fly and buy somewhere else! There are smaller supermarkets, and thats where we go first,( Lidls, Aldi, Iceland ) and for anything we still need, its any one of the others.
Fruit and veg? Nearly always better and cheaper on a market stall, because the buyers at the wholesale market are the people selling on the stall.
Well, thats as near as I can get to avoiding the devious supermarkets.
I can hardly believe the regulator has let them get away with these dubious practices for so long.The purpose and the spirit of the law is being actively circumvented by the supermarkets, and so hefty fines are appropriate.

Mostly I agree, but would just point out that even the small chains have to be watched, for eg the usual price of Linda McCartney sausages are way over a pound for six at most supermarkets when not on special offer, when they do have offers on, it is still on the six-packs, whereas the reduction on this product at Iceland is for a box of five…so manufacturers are producing two different sizes. It seems to me that all supermerkets and manufacturers’ deviousness know no bounds…

@Pat, Sadly its not just food manufacturers that play that game. I remember a few years ago, one manufacturer had the “same” vacuum cleaner on sale at 2 different stores with the only difference being the model number something like ab-123i and ab-123x. And when you tried to price match being told they’re not the same model so we can’t price match. The regulators really need to up their game with so much underhandedness going on these days.

It’s about time the government laid into regulators, they all seem to be a waste of space. i.e. What was the financial regulator doing for 5 years whilst one of HSBS was ripping off the elderly?

One of the major supermarkets I visit sell pre-packed bags of 5 bananas for £1. I buy a bunch of 5 decent sized loose bananas that roughly weigh around 1 kg for 68p (or whatever the price per kg is this week).

Brian East Sussex says:
22 December 2011

Supermarkets are always trying to tell us what value we get then try very hard to mislead us at every turn. There are some products that perennially are on sale or have a confusing array of pack sizes. Is Finish dishwasher tablets ever sold at full price? They come in multiple pack sizes designed to catch the unwary. Bad value right alongside the special offer. Can of Coke are another example. Unit priced from 25p up to 40p in a dazzling array of pack sizes and two for one offers designed to confuse (that’s supermarket speak for pack sizes to suit everyone’s convenience), Can we really need 4’s,6’s,8’s 12’s 18’s and 24’s?

Today I complained to Waitrose. Cherry tomatoes on the vine and boxes of cherry tomatoes were close together. Because I looked at one and saw the smaller figure on the ticket was less for the ‘on the vine’ than the boxed one I took a bag of those – fortunately I was weighing for myself as I was shocked by the price and returned them to the display. In fact one sort had the kilo price large and the other had the lb price large. I should have been very embarrassed if I had got to the checkout before discovering that.

This is the one that really bugs me, mixing font sizes and reference weights. I am now of an age where I need to keep swapping glasses to see the products and then the unit price. Easy to get caught out if you are not wary. Yes, it is dead easy to convert 100g to 1kg but should still be consistantly kg only, using 1kg, 100g or lb with different font sizes can be used to good effect. We need a minimum font size (10mm) and a single unit size (kg and litre) which must be consistant throughout any given store. It really is time though that the lb and pint were ditched forever.

Chris says:
23 January 2012

It is about time these scams were brought to light. I have been making a mental list of related issues for some time. Those that are commonly in use in our local stores are gondolla end ‘sale items’ which are not actually for sale as the pack size is different from that advertised on the banner, the reduced packs ar down a side isle. Deals which state two for £2.00 where actually the individual price is 90p. ‘Bargain’ or family sized packs which per volume are more expensive than smaller packs. The one that really gets me is the packaging size, or internal volume that just keeps shrinking while the price increases…. surely there is a law about this stuff?! I think we should start a targeted campaig advertising this ‘fraud’ … or am I being grumpy!?

I will join you being grumpy, my hate is having to buy 2 of something when I only want one. I like little gem lettuce but they are never sold as single items and I know I will throw out the 2nd as I am not a rabbit and a single little gem is enough.

David – The long term solution could be for customers and environmental pressure groups to push supermarkets to trade in a way that cuts down on the amount of food that is wasted. This could take years.

In the meantime, I suggest that you exchange items with neighbours. It is a good way of dealing with dealing with ‘buy one and get one free’ offers on fresh food, especially for those who live alone.

@wavechange, we seem to meet on all the important conversations!

Its not that I live alone, my wife and I are barely able to eat one little gem before the other goes off. I would rather they either provided them singly or allowed them loose – but then wrapped in cellophane they are pre-washed.

Perhaps the answer would be to return unused food to the supermarket when it has gone off to show them how much is wasted – mind you they probably couldn’t give a damn anyway as they have already pocketed the cash.

Perhaps I should go into the store, buy 2 little gems and stand outside and sell one of the 2 for 50% of what I paid – far more visible to the store and customers!

I like this forum David. Even criticisms and insults are usually in proper English, and we are rarely reprimanded for taking a discussion off-topic. 🙂

I have already been banned from my local Tesco for a day for taking photos of salad chillers to send to Environmental Health. (In the circumstances, I am rather glad that their little gems are well wrapped.) If you attempted to trade on land owned by a supermarket, it could be your turn to have a heavy hand on your shoulder.

@ wave change – Slightly off-topic, I am well known by my Tesco as I live behind their car park and they get phone calls from me when anyone dares to play their radio such that it interferes with the enjoyment of my home. I have been known to drive round and block the exit/entrance when I get no satisfaction but I think they have learned as they have put in place barriers and CCTV to record vehicles arriving and leaving.

Getting my collar felt by the youngsters would be interesting since this would only raise awareness of the issue 😉

I could of course stand just outside on the public footpath – but then the heavies from the council would do the same!!

Victor Delta says:
4 March 2012

We mainly shop at a local Tesco and, to be honest, I don’t generally have a problem with the clarity of their unit pricing. However, what does infuriate me is when the larger pack of an item is actually less good value than the smaller pack.

This was the case for many months with Tesco’s Californian Seedless Grapes where the 1kg pack was consistently more expensive than 2 x 500g packs. Surely that can be no rational explanation for this?

Victor Delta says:
4 March 2012

Sorry, meant Raisins not Grapes!

Always carry a calculator in the supermarket. It’s not always easy to compare prices as one brand will be priced in a different way to the next. Buying beer can be a nightmare for those not versed in comparing prices. You need to compare litre prices as different bottle and can offers often contain items of different quantities. then there are reducing alcohol volumes. It used to be a chore doing the weekly shop, but now it is a specialist operation.

Not disagreeing with you, but surely a better idea is to have consistant unit pricing? I have never bought beer, but it annoys me that wine is priced per 750ml just because that is the standard bottle size even though I buy it in 3l or 5l boxes whenever possible.

john says:
19 April 2012

Sainsburys have recently been packaging Mince Beef in two different sizes – 500g and, I think 650g. With the unit price per kilo it is easy to see which is cheapest. HOWEVER, they then have a special price for buying 2 without the unit pricing applying. Without a calculator I defy anyone to tell me which is the better bargain! These practices need to be outlawed. Next time I intend to take the packs to the customer service desk and ask them to tell me which is the better buy!!

What a great idea…I’m going to do that too..!

It is not difficult to compare prices if you can do mental arithmetic, at least for the example given. I am not suggesting that this should be necessary but it is still worth teaching children how to do simple calculations without a calculator.

Adrian says:
22 April 2012

Tesco over the last few months:

three different sizes of Weetabix cereal; one with a unit price per 100g, another priced by biscuit, and one with no unit price at all!

tins of fruit in juice, some priced per total weight some by ‘dry weight’

savoury slices, ice cream, tinned rice all reduced in pack size but somehow the unit price shown is that for the older, larger size … for months after the new size appeared on the shelves.

Misleading, deceptive, dishonest – “every little lie helps” (Tesco)

stan says:
28 June 2012

It is clear that supermarkets generally want confusion over prices. I am surprised that one of them hasn’t broken ranks and presented their prices in a fair and open way.

Could “which” have a fair pricing score for each supermarket?

I’ll certainly have a go at photographing prices – I hope this won’t get me into trouble with their security people

Burnacle says:
30 June 2012

I had just read your bulletin on supermarket pricing when my wife asked me to collect a deodorant from TESCO . She had a ’50p Off’ coupon for ‘Sure’ and told me that the deodorant was being sold at half price so that the 50p off coupon was particularly good value!
When I arrived at at TESCO, I thought my only decision was to select a fragrance. Having selected a 250ml can I went to pay and gave the assistant the 50p off coupon only to be told that the coupon was off the 150ml size.
I went back to the deodorant products and found the 150ml size of Sure under the 250ml size. The 150ml size was priced at £2!!!! So with the 50p off coupon it would cost a net £1.50 – the same price as the 250ml can was being sold for! Is the 50p off coupon a saving or a bid CON?

Andy says:
1 July 2012

Having just read the Which newsletter I had to sign up and support this campaign. The uncomparable pricing practice has annoyed me for a long time. It also seems to me that displayed prices often intentionally use difficult to compare numbers which require more adept mental arithmetic skills (or a pocket calculator) to resolve. While fruit and vegetables seem to be the main problem area, in other products things like 15% extra free can often create uncertainty because you are never sure whether the price per kg (if there is one) on the shelf is with or without the 15%. This can be further compounded when the item is not sold in round units (100g, 500g, 1kg) If one branded pack is 750g and another make alongside has 15% extra but is more expensive which do you choose?. In general I am always distrusting of unit priced goods as I feel it hides the value for money of the item. I sometimes weigh out a Kg of unit priced items to see how many I would get in comparison with buying loose items priced per Kg. If unit priced comes out best value I think the supermarket must have made a mistake!

Owen says:
4 July 2012

Hi, it’s not just unit prices that are a problem. Some items are unit priced per litre or millilitre when competeing products are priced per gram pr milligram.

Nathan says:
11 July 2012

I am waiting for the day that all Tescos prices are displayed on screens; so that by the time you get to the check out they have changed the prices to make the most amount of money…….I can’t help thinking that the supermarkets think they are really clever with the way they price – whereas actually they are creating hordes of people with serious disgust for their brand. Personally I rape Tescos for their real offers (ignoring the fake offers) and then shop at supermarkets with more integrity the rest of the time. However living within walking distance of five supermarkets its easy for me to do.