/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Supermarkets can BOGOF with their confusing fruit pricing

Summer’s come around, and with it lots of cheap deals on things like strawberries, mangoes, and other refreshing summer fruits. But why are supermarkets still making it tricky for us to work out which are best value?

I’m trying (reasonably unsuccessfully) to lose weight at the moment. One of the key things I’ve tried to do is avoid crisps, chocolate and various other calorie-packed treats, and spend more time browsing the fruit and veg aisle to see if I can pick up something healthier.

My main gripe is that many of the healthy snacks I want to buy are almost impossible to compare in terms of price. Take grapes, strawberries or raspberries, for instance – nature’s sweets – easy snacks which have the added bonus that I can share them around the office and show everyone how virtuous I’m being.

They’re sold in pre-packaged tubs and often discounted at two for £4, or two for £3 if I’m lucky. The problem I have with this is that they’re so rarely not on discount that I have no idea how much they’re supposed to cost. Am I getting a bargain, or not? And if I go to a different supermarket, how do I know which one’s cheaper?

Packs, punnets and price

I was quite pleased when our Which? researchers had a quick nose into some supermarket’s fruit sections and found that it’s not just me who is easily confused by pricing. Some of our researchers compared the prices of whole mangos with sliced mango in supermarkets – not the easiest task, as they’re often priced completely differently.

In Tesco, individual mangoes were priced at 88p each, whereas packaged mango chunks were 67p per 100g. Similarly, in Waitrose, mangoes were priced per item (with a pack of two costing £1.25), while mango chunks were marked at 99.5p per 100g.

They found similar difficulties when comparing a punnet of plums with a pack of plums. In Asda, a 400g punnet was priced at £2.50 per kg, while a pack of six were priced at 25p per plum.

A case of sour grapes?

Some people might say ‘OK, but surely you could work it out?’ Well actually – no. In some situations I could – if I were given the weight of my grapes in all instances, or if I carried a pair of scales with me, I could work out how much per 100g each punnet should cost.

The problem here is that although some items are priced per 100g, others are priced ‘per pack’ or ‘per item’. It would be a hundred times simpler if everything used the same unit for the unit price (as well as the actual price you pay for the product). It might also mean that when we go into a shop and see a special offer we can work out if it’s a genuine bargain.

But supermarkets aren’t required to give the unit price for special offers at all. Two punnets of grapes for £4 might be a great deal, but in order to compare it to the cost of buying grapes loose, I need to know how much each costs per Kg.

We’re campaigning at the moment for clearer unit pricing on food, and trying to persuade the supermarkets that this quick and simple change will make the world of difference to consumers. It certainly will to me, and I hope it will to you too! If you want to support us, please sign our unit pricing pledge, letting us know which supermarket you use most regularly, and help us spread the word.

Working out unit pricing is not rocket science, so let’s get supermarkets making it far more prominent, using consistent units and providing it on special offers. That way we will save time in the supermarket and money at the till.

A Marano says:
21 June 2012

I have been annoyed with these pricing practices for some time. Recently, I did a little research at Waitrose. A bag of 6 Cox’s apples was selling for £2.29, or on special offer at 2 bags for £4; when I weighed the bag using the price of loose Cox’s apples (£2.29/kg) the bag weighed .705 kg and would have cost only £1.61. Thus, customers are paying 68p for the “convenience” of buying a bag of apples instead of bagging the apples themselves! Another example: Granny Smith apples, a bag of 6 for £1.92 (labelled as 32p each) but when weighed as loose (at £1.68/kg) the bag would have cost £1.12!! And of course it’s not just apples, it’s all sorts of fruit and veg. Tomatoes are especially annoying as the only ones available loose are the tasteless bog standard ones. Good luck to Which? in trying to get clearer and fairer pricing!

As someone else said in another conversation recently, it is pointless trying to compare today’s strawberry prices with those of two months ago. The prices of seasonal produce depend heavily on fluctuations in both supply and demand and on place of origin. It would be useful if – as a public service akin to publishing stock market prices – some broadcasting or consumer organisation published a daily table of prices derived from the wholesale fruit & veg markets. Assuming [say] 100% mark-up to cover distribution, preparation, retailing and profit, this would give us a guide to a target price level. The major supermarkets, however, with their grip on producers and their insulation from the wholesale markets, might make a mockery of such a facility. Standardised unit pricing is essential as a first step.

Tax the packaging and give us sensible pricing that we can compare – yes please!

I like individual prices in particular when it is something that I eat one or two of at a time. It is easier to understand that that you have just eaten £1s worth of tomato for lunch in those sandwiches for instance (and give me flavoursome on the vine not kept in the fridge red and ripe ones anytime instead of those pale tasteless off the vine things masquerading as tomatoes).

£4 for two packs? I bet I know where you’re shopping! Don’t let them go too soft and mouldy before you’ve finished eating them!

A Marano says:
22 June 2012

Re: £4 for two packs. That’s another major annoyance: perishable foods on special offers where you have to buy multiple units. With over 7,000,000 English households having only one person in them, how can you take advantage of offers when you can’t possibly use it all before it goes off? Why can’t they simply sell one pack for £2? I’ve been in supermarkets in the US where they must sell you one unit of a multi-buy special offer at the special offer price (in other words, it the offer is 4 items for $4, they have to sell you one for $1). How great would that be here?

Yes, too much packaging as well. Let me buy how much I want to buy, not how much the supermarket wants to sell me.

A lot of supermarkets show prices of soft fruit on offer at “1/2 Price”. I never seem to see them at the full price quoted, particularly because the “normal” pricing of soft fruit such as raspberries and strawberries can vary from week to week during early summer. Does the rule, about items being on sale at the full price for 28 days before the offer, apply to highly seasonal fresh fruit?

Gill, you might be interested in our supermarkets investigation which looked into this: https://conversation.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/supermarket-special-offers-investigation-food-prices-dodgy-deal/

I agree with you on the “what exactly is the full price” when the half price or special price is offered. I have noticed that a lot of offers at half price are actually the same as the full price was at some time in the last 12-18 months so we are stlll paying the same regardless. Then the supermarkets bump it back up to double the old price to make us think we will get a bargain next time. Appalling! I just went through this at Sainsbury’s this morning I now buy what I actually need loose in veg and fruit if I can and never mind the offers.

brat673 says:
2 October 2012

I ask the simple question why aren’t the regulation simple & tight? Might not the answer be that our simple minded civil servants seem incapable of following the publics’ wishes? or are our MPs just not up to the job or did they listen to the likes of the supermarkets.

Legislation for standardised unit pricing is long overdue – although major supermarkets will fight tooth & nail to retain their misleading practices!

Tesco recently had packs of 6 ‘single’ bananas’ at £1 as a ‘special offer’. They looked perfectly satisfactory although I did wonder why ‘single’ – had they become detached from a bunch in transit? Being an ‘offer, there was no price/kilo stated so I took several packs to the one and only set of scales in the entire large ‘fruit & veg’ department (minimum legal requirement?) tucked between display bays Each pack weighed 750 grammes. Meanwhile, ‘loose’ bananas in varying bunches were priced at 68p a kilo, so those ‘on offer’ cost 50% more than ‘loose’ bananas!

Spotting someone who appeared to be the department manager, I queried the so-called ‘offer’. Sadly he was unable (or not programmed!) to recognise that 750 grammes is only ¾ of a kilo, and could only reiterate what good value the ‘offer’ represented. I must confess I gave up, purchased a bunch of 68p/kilo bananas and went home!

The lack of unit pricing is widespread across many major supermarket departments, but ‘fruit & veg’ products seem to lead the way. Maybe it’s to compensate for price reductions forced on them by relative newcomers Aldi and Lidl who, by offering ‘foreign’ products (such as grapes) at ‘European’ prices, revealed that the UK supermarkets had been ripping off customers.

Of course, if customers refused to purchase misleading offers whilst complaining to store managements, then honest pricing might result, but unfortunately most customers haven’t time (or the will) to do so.

Thankfully, we have ‘Which’ to argue for us.

PS I’ve no particular brief for Aldi/Lidl, but whilst stocking a smaller range, their ‘fruit & veg’ departments appear to ‘quietly’ offer a higher proportion of ‘British’ and ‘local’ produce than do most of the UK supermarkets. Is this the case, and if so, how/why?.

AW says:
22 June 2012

I’m always running around weighing produce and using my phone calculator to try and find out which is the best value – it’s a real pain.
My concern about Lidyl veg and fruit is that they don’t seem to have sell by/use by/best before dates on the packs. Is this because they’re irradiated?

It’s not just the price labelling of the food – it’s the quality as well. Peaches taste powdery, plums are vinegary, satsumas are dried out with no juice etc. The cheap price (which is confusing anyway) reflects the poor cheap quality of forced or substandard fruit that we are being palmed off with to make it look like cheap prices.

Murphybear says:
25 June 2012

I agree. Not only is a lot of fruit tasteless it also goes off quickly. When I was growing up in the 50s/60s fruit lasted for ages. I also weigh loose and packaged fruit as the prices vary a lot. You dom’t ned a maths degree to work it out, just a calculator. We have found that loose bananas can be half the price of packaged. It is worth weighing packaged fruit as well, as it is usually sold by the pack and not by the weight. Some packs can be up to 50% heavier than others

I believe the supermarket chains in UK ship and display their fruit too early in the ripening process. In many cases it may also be picked too early. I know it works for bananas but it does not for cherries, nectarines, mangoes – try buying some of these in France or Denmark and you will have a really good experience – if they can do it why don’t we do it too?

tim says:
24 June 2012

Went into Sainsburys on Friday and the wealth of offers is so confusing. Good idea to have a calculator with you or even better not go at all. Such a waste of time that you have the feeling you are being conned whatever. Nothing is clear and transparent as it should be.
The supermarket that will gain most is ,I believe, the one that clearly prices all of its goods so a consumer can shop with certainty.

I also find that despite the confusion on pricing, it is the QUALITY of these so called offers that is in question. The peaches are powdery, the strawberries have no flavour, the satsumas are dried up with no juice etc. It is because these are sub quality in the first place that the “reductions ” are offered and in the end, you have to pay full price for anything that tastes good, never mind the strain of trying to work out the savings on rubbish tasting fruit and veg! very sad.

J.D.Baines says:
26 June 2012

The ‘3 for 2’ and BOGOF offers etc. show up some stupid pricing.
For example – cucumbers @ 80p each, but £1.00 for 2. A pensioner may only be able to afford 60p, so buys none. If the price were to be only 60p, then many more people would buy one – the total sold could well bring more income to the supermarket! To buy 2 is in many cases ensuring that maybe half is thrown away – waste.
When associated with multipacks, it is possible for the price of one item on ‘special’ to be less than one quarter of the price of the multipack of 4!
There should be a maximum price difference between one of something and its multiple offers – say 10% discount for multiples?

Jon says:
27 June 2012

Tesco Langney Eastbourne Monday 25/06/12 selling British Strawberries 400 g. for £3.99
Remove yellow sticker on front of pack to reveal another sticker stating £1.99 plus free carton of cream. I confronted the manager and he told me they had been told to put the stickers on..
……….. Every little helps ! Tesco.

John Pemberton says:
27 June 2012

Why does Tesco (and presumably others) show an item price then a price per 100gms and on a similar product the price per 10gms? I know it’s easy enough to multiply the 10gms by 10 to get 100gms, but what is the point of doing this exercise? Also, why are spirits (and probably other items) sometimes cheaper (per litre) in smaller bottles/packs than in bigger sizes? Why are we deliberately being confused? Rip off Britain!!!

John Pemberton says:
27 June 2012

An afterthought. When strawberries first hit the shelves they were immediately at half price per punnet. Half what price???????????? They hadn’t been on sale previously!!!

Anthony Athill says:
27 June 2012

Half price strawberries, who do they think they are kidding, and very supermarket has them at half price all season. This is blatant lying and I hope ‘which’ will do more to shame the culprits. In the middle of the winter when they are flown half way around the world they are not the same product.
We should all go into the supermarket, pick up a carton of strawberries, take them to the manager and say that we think they have been miss priced because £1.99 is the normal price so they should be £1 now. When the manager has stopped his feeble justification, give him the strawberries and walk out. Do not take them to the till, that is not fare on the staff and it will not get back to management. I complained at Tescos about a so called special offer on baked beans; 4 in one pack for more than 4 x the single price and they stopped it. We can also go to Lidl and Aldi who are not as corrupt though check carefully as fruit can be over ripe.

Murphybear says:
28 June 2012

Just been to our local PYO for strawberries. Weighed in at 1.5 kg, cost about £4 and were big and VERY VERY tasty. How can supermarkets justify there “before” prices of £4 for a small punnet

Tom says:
27 June 2012

KISS [K(eep) I(t) S(imple) S(tupid)] – all solids should be priced per kilo, all liquids per litre.

Murphybear says:
28 June 2012

Agree, I have seen almost identical liquid products one priced per 100 g and one priced per 100 mls. Totally ridiculous

Sheila S. says:
27 June 2012

All food should show the price per 100 grams.
BOGOF should be banned and prices reduced instead as it would help everyone and stop food wastage.

Maureen Vilar says:
27 June 2012

My real complaint, as in the case of another member who posted above, is in the quality of the fruit. It is rarely ripe. It rarely ripens. It is now years since I tasted a ripe strawberry. I have stopped buying most fresh fruit as a result and until this situation improves the details of pricing will remain irrelevant to me.

Allan T says:
27 June 2012

I couldn’t agree more with Maureen Vilar. A classic case is rock hard inedible pears that don’t ripen, they just seem to go rotten overnight after sitting in the bowl for a week or 10 days. Supermarket fruit is the biggest rip-off in the store.

Yes, I wholeheartedly agree with Maureen and Allan, and most of the year supermarket plums are just the same – hard and tasteless. Then – for a delicious moment – English Victoria plums become available. The superlative fruit, plumptious and toothsome. But better bought from a local grower than from one of the big supermarkets where they have been picked a little too soon and priced too high. Hard to find good French and Italian peaches nowadays as well.

Tescos have been particularly irritating recently with offers such as “any three for £2” or “buy any three, cheapest one free”, when the “any” is to be chosen from a defined list of products shown on a little yellow shelf label. Very often the products concerned are not all readily available, and it is not clear which products are included – some packs of pears or grapes may qualify, but not slightly different versions, and you don’t discover that you have not chosen the exactly correct item until examining your till receipt, when it is too late to go back and hunt. Sometimes the shelf label says “any two for £2.50” while stickers on the packages say “any two for £3”.

I always use the scales that are sometimes hard to find when comparing prices on prepacked fruit and veg. The supermarkets obviously make more money from this prepacked scam or they wouldn’t do it, they know that most shopper can’t be bothered weighing out loose items. As for ready prepared items are we so lazy that we can’t be bothered to peel and chop especially in these times of hardship.

susan evans says:
28 June 2012

I would like to see clear price per 100g or price per100ml IN BIG PRINT at the top of every product.
Not tiny print so you can not read it