/ Health, Shopping

The inconvenience of convenience store medicines

A pile of pink pills

There’s a big price difference between branded and own-label medicines like paracetamol, but some smaller stores only stock expensive tablets. Does searching for good value medicine give you a headache?

When I set out to buy some paracetamol from a Tesco Express near Which? HQ, it didn’t help my headache when I found out that I had to pay £1.58 for a pack of Panadol, rather than the 19p I’d expected to pay for own-brand Tesco paracetamol. Both of these products contain identical active ingredients – 500mg of paracetamol per tablet.

Yet the Tesco Express near my home stocks own-brand paracetamol, so why doesn’t one in central London? I just can’t understand why Tesco is forcing me to pay a premium.

Hunting for headache tablets

So I asked our research team to investigate further, and find out whether Tesco Express and Sainsbury’s Local were giving shoppers the chance to buy cheaper medicines. We visited five of each type of store to see what was available and found while expensive brands were on the shelves, few cheap own-brand alternatives were in stock.

A medicine cabinet with price comparisons

For example, we found Anadin Extra at the five Sainsbury’s Locals we visited, priced at £1.99 a pack, and at four Tesco Express stores, priced at £1.89, but none stocked the supermarkets’ 45p own-brand versions. All three versions contain identical ingredients.

When we asked the supermarkets why, Tesco told us it couldn’t stock a full range of products due to the size of its Express stores. Whereas Sainsbury’s refuted our research and said 25% of medicines sold in Local stores were own-brand.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste my money by paying over the odds for medicine. I understand that space is at a premium in smaller stores, but why not stock the cheaper own-brand instead of making shoppers pay more? I’d be much more likely to become a regular customer if a supermarket was actively trying to help me cut back on unnecessary costs.

Do you know why smaller supermarkets only stock more expensive medicine? Do you think cheaper alternatives should be available?


The retailer will probably make a higher profit on the more expensive product but this product may also be more popular despite the higher price.

Paracetamol and other medicines that can be sold in supermarkets have a reasonably long shelf life so a little forward planning can save money.

It’s not often that I defend Tesco. 🙂

I experienced a similar situation in Tesco Express just last week. I wanted to purchase Nurofen but only the more expensive option, Nurofen Express, was available.

The active ingredient of Nurofen (and Nurofen Express) is ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is widely available from supermarkets etc., and is usually much cheaper than Nurofen.

With medicines that can be bought from supermarkets, there are generally no royalties or licensing conditions to be met. The expensive brand may have a different formulation, but this is unlikely to have a dramatic effect on its efficacy, or to add much to the cost. If the supermarkets can make a profit selling paracetamol, ibuprofen, etc. cheaply then the manufacturers of the expensive brands must be making higher profits, although they do have to fund the cost of advertising.

Good luck to Which? and any other organisations that help the public to understand that they don’t need to pay high prices for basic medicines.

In contrast, I have sympathy for the companies that charge the NHS high prices for new drugs, since they have to recoup the costs of research, development and testing. There are a few successes and many failures, and it has become so hard to produce new antibiotics that it is becoming commercially non-viable.

Clint Kirk says:
8 May 2013

The antihistamine that works well for me is Acrivastine. Unfortunately, it doesn’t yet come in a non-branded variant. You have to pay Benadryl’s high price. I can’t find whether this is because of a patent and if so, when does it expire?

I went into Asda a few weeks ago and asked at the pharmacy for the cheapest paracetamol they had. I then wandered along the aisle and found paracetamol cheaper on the shelves. I asked an assistant who said that what the pharmacy sold was separate from the stores medicine shelf…..well I’ll be blowed!!