Bet you thought it would be ASDA or lidl? The Guardian explains…
Move over Aldi, step aside Asda, Morrisons is winning the supermarket price war, independent survey finds.
Morrisons has jumped ahead of Aldi to become Britain’s cheapest supermarket in the first fully independent audit of prices at the major chains, prepared exclusively for Guardian Money.
Aldi was consistently the cheapest throughout 2014 until October, when Morrisons – which had been suffering badly at the hands of the new entrants – promised to match prices at the German-owned discount chain.
The findings will add to Tesco’s ongoing woes, revealing that the nation’s biggest supermarket also charges the highest prices after Waitrose and Ocado.
The figures were for own-brand goods only, but covered a total of 19,659 items across seven supermarkets, and show that, on an unweighted basis, prices for own-brand goods in Morrisons and Aldi are around 10% lower than at Asda, and 20% cheaper than Sainsbury’s and Tesco. However, these supermarkets strongly dispute the findings, with each arguing that on commonly bought items, it is the same or cheaper than rivals.
It will come as little surprise that Waitrose own-brand goods are the most expensive, but the scale of difference is remarkable, with its prices more than double those charged by cheaper rivals.
The figures were compiled by mysupermarket.co.uk, which each day captures prices from the online websites of the major chains. Until now it has not been possible to compare prices fully, because neither Morrisons nor Aldi posted live prices online. But these are now available, and today’s figures reveal how they compare with the other chains. Lidl remains outside of the analysis as not all its prices are available “live” online.
Cheddar cheese is a good example of a popular own-brand item where current prices bear out the research. Morrisons charges £4.83 a kg for its “M Savers” mature cheddar, Aldi £5 a kg, Sainsbury’s Basics starts at £6 a kg, while Waitrose “Essential” is £8.60 a kg.
Mysupermarket said items such as baked beans, ice cream and bottled water were cheapest in Morrisons, while Aldi was best for sausages and Asda for potatoes. But no supermarket is cheapest in every category. At the start of 2014, mysupermarket found that Aldi was cheapest in seven of 13 categories (such as meat, fruit, veg and dairy) but by October this had fallen to five. Morrisons was cheapest in four categories, and Asda in two.
You are not automatically paying through the nose if you visit Waitrose. Take, for example, eggs. Aldi sells the cheapest supermarket free-range eggs at 14.8p each, but Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose are not far behind, all on 16.7p each. Morrisons was actually the priciest, at 23p an egg.
There are a number of caveats with the research. We only covered own-brand because Aldi sells almost no branded products. So this research does not tell you if Morrisons is better than Tesco on Heinz baked beans, or if Asda is cheaper than Sainsbury’s for Kellogg’s cornflakes. The mix of products sold (eg how many own-brand items are “basic” rather than “standard”) will affect the average. And, of course, this is a statistical exercise that takes no account of quality. Many Waitrose shoppers will believe that its Essential own-brand cheese is a cut above others on offer.
But it does come at a time when price-conscious shoppers are having a dramatic impact on the major chains. All the “big four” supermarkets saw sales fall in the 12 weeks to 9 November, with both Tesco and Sainsbury’s pulling the plug on planned new store openings. Only Morrisons has promised to take on Aldi and Lidl, with the launch in early October of a price-matching scheme.
A spokesman for mysupermarket.co.uk said: “No one supermarket can claim to be the cheapest overall – only cheapest in certain departments. Although Aldi does come out as cheapest in the most number of departments, on average, they are only cheapest in five of 13 departments. This falls short of their claim of being ‘the nation’s low-price grocery leader’. In fact, Aldi are most expensive in the baby and beauty and health departments.
“Tesco are not cheapest in any category. Furthermore the departments that the supermarkets are cheapest in can change from month to month. Shoppers are being lured by ‘cheap’ products only to be hit by more comparatively expensive items or departments.
“We believe the regular fluctuations in price are an attempt by supermarkets to confuse shoppers, who are being misled by claims to be the cheapest. Shoppers need to compare prices regularly to see which of their favourite items are cheapest as the difference in price can be huge.”
Morrisons, which was the first to suffer the onslaught from Aldi and Lidl in its home territory, has been the first to fight back, with its Match & More points scheme promising to match the price of goods in the discounters. Chief executive Dalton Philips says: “Since February we’ve been reducing our fresh food pricing. In May we spread these price cuts right across our stores, cutting prices on 1,200 more items that are an important part of customers’ baskets. They included a mixture of our Own Brand products – which now make up nearly half of our sales – and the key brands. The price cuts included our minced beef – 100% British, sourced by our livestock buyers and processed in our own abattoirs – down 20%.”
Aldi claims it will constantly undercut the big four with its business model. A spokeswoman said: “About 95% of our range comprises exclusive own labels. We do not bamboozle shoppers with multiple product choices and variations. “While Morrisons claims that it price matches against Aldi, it doesn’t. The receipt a customer receives doesn’t highlight the supermarket it is price matched against, and we believe the confusing and convoluted way in which customers are expected to redeem points does not reflect the true everyday value that we offer.”
When we showed the mysupermarket figures to the big four, each responded with accusations that the data was misleading, and that their offering was cheaper. Sainsbury’s insisted that its Basics range beats others on price. Asda said that “all of our own data and the independent data available to us through MSM and The Grocer consistently have us at the cheapest of the major supermarkets”. A Tesco spokesperson said: “With Tesco Price Promise, which compares our own prices to those of Morrisons and others, customers can be reassured they will never lose out on price when shopping at Tesco.”