Food and Grocery Bills Slashed by Unit Pricing

New research by the Queensland Consumers Association (QCA) shows shoppers can make big savings on food and grocery bills by taking account of the unit prices (price per unit of measure – for example $ per 100g) on supermarket shelf labels and other price signs.

QCA spokesperson, Ian Jarratt, says the research showed that on a basket of 32 medium size pre-packaged products a 50% saving was possible by switching from a high to a low unit price brand.

And, for 11 products available in both prepacks or loose (including cheese, chicken, fish and fruit and vegetables) the saving from using unit prices was 24%.

The saving for these 43 items was 42% – a saving of $84 on a $198 bill.

The research also showed that using unit pricing to guide choice of pack size within a brand resulted in a 26% saving for 19 products.

There were very large differences in the unit prices of some products. For example the unit price of a supermarket brand of paracetamol tablets was 79% lower than a national brand, a large pack of a national brand of corn flakes was 52% lower than a small pack, and baby spinach leaves were 48% lower loose than when pre-packaged.

QCA says that these results show clearly that many food and grocery shoppers could achieve very substantial savings, or get much more for the same amount of money, by using unit prices to compare values.

This would greatly help the many householders struggling to make ends meet due to cost of living pressures, and would make the food and grocery market even more competitive and responsive to consumer demand.

However, to achieve savings when shopping consumers need to: compare unit prices, and not be switched off/on “automatic pilot” at the supermarket and when buying online.

Shoppers need to be particularly aware that:
a “special offer” may not be the best buy in terms of unit price
unit prices differ greatly between brands, pack sizes and whether the product is loose or packaged
although large packs are generally better value in terms of unit price than small/medium, and unpackaged better value than pre-packaged, this is not always the case.

QCA lead the national campaign that in 2009 resulted in very large supermarkets and some online sellers being required to show the unit price of pre-packaged products.

However, QCA says that many shoppers don’t use unit prices to compare value for money, or do not use it enough, and therefore miss out on big savings.

QCA says under-use of unit pricing is mainly due to:
too many unit prices being insufficiently prominent and legible, especially those on the upper and lower shelves and for special offers
inconsistent units of measure (for example some items of the same or a similar product being unit priced per 100g, per kg or per each)
non or inconsistent provision
insufficient consumer education about the availability of, and uses for, unit pricing.

QCA wants these problems, and the benefits from requiring smaller food and grocery retailers, and other types of retailer to provide unit pricing by, to be addressed during a planned review of the national unit pricing regulations.