Cadbury, Coca Cola, Colgate. Which supermarket is cheapest for national brands?

Cadbury chocolate bars

Consumers’ Federation of Australia member CHOICE has priced national brand groceries at Coles, Woolwoths and Aldi. Read CHOICE’s article to see where to find products for the cheapest price and how to use unit pricing to check which pack size ofers the best value for money.

  • Our price survey found that products from national brands are 20% cheaper at Aldi, on average, than at Coles and Woolworths
  • More than one third of the national brand products at Aldi are in different pack sizes from those same products at Coles and Woolies
  • Unit pricing is vital for checking which pack size – and retailer – offers the best value for money

The price of food and groceries continues to be one of the most significant cost-of-living concerns for consumers, not surprising when groceries make up 20% of our weekly household expenditure. And for many of us, household finances have tightened due to COVID-19, so reducing the grocery bill can be helpful.

One way to save money on groceries is to buy supermarket brand (also known as ‘house’ or ‘own’ brand) products. In our most recent grocery basket price survey, the Coles or Woolworths brand basket was 40% cheaper than the equivalent leading brand basket. Even further savings can be made by switching to a supermarket’s budget-tier brands, such as Smart Buy from Coles and Essentials from Woolworths.

But sometimes the ‘look and feel’ of the supermarket brand version isn’t quite the same as that of its national brand equivalent. So if you’d prefer to buy tried and trusted — whether it be Cadbury, Kleenex, Moccona or Uncle Toby’s — which supermarket is cheapest?

WE compared prices of more than 150 national brand products at Aldi, Coles and Woolworths to find out. See How we surveyed for details.

Cheapest supermarket

Across the entire range of 152 products that we priced, national brand products were 20% cheaper at Aldi, on average, than at Coles and Woolworths when comparing unit prices.

A couple of products cost the same at Aldi as they did at Coles and Woolies, and a couple were actually more expensive. But the bulk of the national brand products we priced were cheaper at Aldi, with savings as much as 57%.

Pack size differences

The contents may be the same, but the pack sizes of national brands at Aldi are often different. Of the 152 products we priced, 36 were smaller and 19 larger at Aldi than at Coles and Woolworths – that’s 36% of packs that are different sizes. 

A jar of Bega Peanut Butter is 755g at Aldi, but 780g at Coles and Woolies, for example. And a box of Arnott’s Barbecue Shapes is 250g at Aldi, but 175g at Coles and Woolies. 

Even between Coles and Woolworths there can be differences, such as the 280g Vegemite that’s “only at Woolworths”. Or Kellogg’s Corn Flakes that come in 220g or 725g packs at Coles but 220g, 450g and 920g packs at Woolworths.

So what’s the reason for this? 

Consumer needs vs needless choices

We contacted a range of manufacturers with this question, and their responses indicate that the bespoke pack sizes tend to be driven by their customer (the retailer), based on differing “consumer needs”.

When we posed the same question to Aldi, we were simply told that “different pack sizes are based on popularity”.

Whether or not these different pack sizes are meeting the needs of consumers is a discussion for another day. But one thing is certain: they muddy the waters for shoppers trying to save money on their groceries. Essentially, you can’t assume a lower price tag for a national brand at one retailer means you’re getting better value – you could just be getting less product.

Compare unit prices to save money

The Queensland Consumers Association (QCA), along with CHOICE, has long campaigned for effective unit pricing (pricing per unit of measure) that allows people to make more informed choices and get the best value when shopping for groceries – regardless of retailer, product or pack size.

“It’s important to look at unit prices, not just selling prices, when choosing what to buy,” says QCA spokesperson Ian Jarratt.

He cites multiple ways that unit pricing allows you to compare value, including (but not limited to):

  • Products sold in packs and loose, e.g. carrots in 750g packs vs loose per kg (see Is loose fruit and veg cheaper than packaged?).
  • Different brands of the same product, e.g. brand A cornflakes in 900g packs and brand B in 750g packs.
  • Different levels of convenience, e.g. cheese in blocks vs wedges/grated/sliced/diced/sticks.
  • Regular prices and special offers, e.g. normal price for a single item vs a lower price per item for buying more than one.
  • Different forms of a product, e.g. vegetables fresh vs canned and frozen.
  • And of course the same brand of product sold in a variety of pack sizes, e.g. Heinz Baked Beans sold in 130g, 300g and 555g cans (see our Baked beans review).

As Ian puts it, “Unit pricing is your best friend in the supermarket.”

How we surveyed

  • We recorded the pack size, price and unit price of 152 national brand products sold at Aldi over two days in July.
  • On the same dates, we recorded the pack price (not on special) and unit price of the same product sold at Coles and Woolworths online.
  • Where pack sizes differed between Aldi and Coles/Woolworths, we recorded the price/unit price of the closest pack size.
  • We used unit prices to calculate the savings.

CHOICE Article 08/09/2020