Supermarkets pledge to cut through label confusion

Date:03-08-2013 07:58:06 read:1

Supermarkets pledge to cut through label confusion

Want to know how much you're really saving? Jessica Winch says clarity is on its way

Aldi and The Co-operative are among the latest retailers to commit to new labelling guidelines Photo: Reuters

Dashing around the supermarket, it is easy to succumb to one of the many special offers leaping out in large font from the corner shelves. Buy one get one free, buy two get the third free, special reductions in price – it's hard to keep track of the true value of the goods in your trolley. Even without the special offers, it is harder than it looks to compare prices.

In a victory for the consumer, last week four supermarket chains pledged to improve their shelf labels following a high-profile campaign from consumer group Which?

Aldi and The Co-operative are among the latest retailers to commit to new labelling guidelines after Morrisons signed up in September last year.

The problem centres on the "unit price" of products on the shelves.

Retailers are required by law to display both a selling price and a unit price on the shelf labels of food and drink products. The unit price is meant to help shoppers compare the cost of products, even if they come in different sizes. So if a 500g jar of pasta sauce costs £1.20 and a 290g jar costs 80p, a unit price shows you straight away which jar gives you more for your money.

But there are no rules regarding which units should be used, or how prominently the unit price should appear on the labels.

So the same supermarket tea bags, for example, could be priced per tea bag or per 100g, which makes it difficult to work out which provides the better value for money. When there is a special offer the unit price may not be posted at all, so how can you tell if the savings are worth it?

"Hard-pressed shoppers want to know at a glance what the cheapest deal is without having to get their calculators out, so it's a win for consumers that supermarkets have committed to improving their labels," said Richard Lloyd, executive director at Which?. "The remaining supermarkets should now follow suit."

A survey by the watchdog found 78pc of consumers shopped around for the best price for their groceries and 43pc compared prices in stores.

Which? said Sainsbury's had been working on more transparent pricing over the past 18 months, and Lidl and Tesco were taking steps towards simpler pricing.

Asda has said it will look at improving its labelling. Which? said Iceland and Marks & Spencer had yet to take any action.

A Marks & Spencer spokesman said their selling and unit prices were "clearly displayed on all our food products in accordance with current legislation".

"Our pricing is simple, consistent and transparent and our customers have told us they are happy with our approach," she said.

A spokesman for Morrisons said the supermarket chain had made changes to 16,000 products and would continue to make "additional improvements" in coming months.

"We know how important it is that our customers are able to make informed decisions on which products offer best value for money," said Guy Mason, Morrisons' head of corporate affairs.

In the longer term, Which? wants the Government to simplify pricing legislation so retailers and manufacturers follow the same guidelines and make food prices easier to compare.

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said: "Clearer prices and promotions will be a big help for consumers who want to be more savvy and work out how to save more on their weekly shop. In addition, more transparency will boost competition and help support a stronger economy."

Mary Creagh, the Opposition's Environment Secretary, said: "Big retailers must make sure shoppers are able to compare prices and products easily. This announcement will put pressure on those retailers who have yet to act, and if they don't the Government should consider legislation to force them to."

Under the commitment, supermarkets display a consistent unit price by using the same unit measurement; include the unit price of food items on promotion in store and ensure that the labels are clearly visible and adhere to Royal National Institute of Blind People guidelines where possible.

The agreement mainly covers the supermarkets' own-brand products, however, so savvy shoppers will have to keep their wits about them.

This week's supermarket deals


Roc de Chevalier Bordeaux Superior, 75cl, £5.99 (previously £11.99), until August 13

Go Ahead! Crispy Slices Apple & Sultana, 5 x 39g, 82p (was £1.65)

Saint Agur cheese, 150g, £1.50 (was £2.25)

Finish Quantum dishwasher tablets x 40, £7 (previously £14), until August 20


Tesco cantaloup melon, two for £2.50 (were £2 each), until August 4

Tesco Finest British pork jumbo sausages selection, 700g, £3 (previously £5), until August 6

Patak's Biryani Paste, 282g, 90p (was £1.80), until August 13

Diet Coke, 12 x 330ml, £3 (previously £5.35)


Extra Special Premier Cru Champagne, 75cl, £18 (was £19.75)

Pierre Darcys Champagne, £19 (was £24.25)

Chosen By You four-pack éclairs, £1 (previously £1.28), until August 22

Magnum Classic, 330ml, two for £3 (previously £2)

The Co-op

Aubert Et Fils Brut Champagne, 75cl, £13.99 (previously £29.99), until August 27

Ben & Jerry's ice cream, 500ml, £2.44 (was £4.89), until August 6

Kellogg's Variety Pack, pack of eight, £1.19 (previously £2.39)


British prime rump steak, £9.99 per kg (previously £14.99 per kg)

English punnet cherries, 250g, £2 (previously £2.49)

Fresh cream slices, two pack, 79p (was £1.09)

I have recently taken on the role of scouring the supermarket shelves to uncover the best offers. Please send me an email at [email protected] if you spot any sneaky price rises, dodgy deals or supermarket bluff that needs investigating – as well as your top tips.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013