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Shop around... save a fortune

By Claire McNeilly

Northern Ireland families could save thousands of pounds a year just by shopping around, it was claimed last night.

New research carried out for the Belfast Telegraph by a leading market researcher has revealed that householders could save more than £500 — on the price of 12 products alone.

It has also highlighted a possible annual saving of around £400 on basic foodstuffs — simply by switching to rival retailers.

Furthermore, the snapshot survey — based on a selection of everyday commodities such as bread, butter and milk — found price variations of up to 157% on identical products across a broad range of stores.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Donald McFetridge, Northern Ireland’s leading retail expert, said that if these savings were applied to a full weekly grocery shop, the money being lost by consumers could potentially run into thousands of pounds a year.

“It always pays to shop around,” he said.

“If consumers can save some £500 on just 12 products, just think of the savings that could be realised if they became more price-aware and paid closer attention to the bargains, promotions and offers available in a wider range of shops.

“Based on the findings of this robust and comprehensive study, it is apparent that consumers could potentially save thousands of pounds on an annual basis.

“Many of the large supermarkets do offer good prices on their generic brands but it's often the case that leading manufacturers' brands are quite expensive.

“Therefore it definitely pays to be aware of the different options available.”

Mr McFetridge added: “As we approach the coming winter it will become imperative for households to take a much more price-sensitive approach to food shopping.

“The school run has already started and motoring costs are higher than this time last year. Trips to the shops, therefore, are more expensive, so it is vital that consumers take full advantage of every opportunity to cut corners whenever they can, wherever they can.”

Ulster Marketing Surveys, which carried out the study, assessed the cost of 12 everyday items likely to be purchased in supermarkets and convenience stores, including a loaf of bread, two litres of milk, bananas, butter, potatoes and tea bags.

The cost of coffee, sugar, sausages, fizzy orange, baked beans and Weetabix was also spot-checked by the marketing experts in each of the 11 different outlets — Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, Vivo, Spar, Centra, Mace, Supervalu, Dunnes, Marks and Spencer and Lidl.

A mixture of widely-stocked popular brands and own labels was carefully selected, with each item checked on a like-for-like basis in order to identify potential savings that consumers could make by shopping around for some of their groceries.

Chief among the study’s findings was that there was only a £2.65 price difference between

the cost of an average basket of goods across Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury’s (£17.41) compared to the six smaller stores (£20.06), where customers would generally expect to pay a premium for convenience.

So, while each of Northern Ireland’s ‘Big Three’ were cheapest on around a quarter of the selected goods — like Heinz Baked Beans, bananas (Sainsbury’s), sausages (Tesco) and butter (Asda) — there were also excellent bargains available in the other outlets.

Indeed, some special offers in smaller stores undercut all of the larger grocers — for example, Spar potatoes, Centra tea bags, Supervalu bread and milk, Dunnes Club Orange — while other retailers also charged the same as some supermarkets for certain items (Mace matched Sainsbury’s price on sausages). Similarly, Vivo sold tea bags for less than Asda.

And while it would be unfair to compare own label retailers such as M&S, or discount vendors like Lidl who specifically source alternative products, with the others, the study has recorded the cost of a similar basket of goods in each outlet for information purposes.

To this end, the findings have shown that they too offer a competitively priced package of items, based on the those chosen for the snapshot survey, with the shopping baskets costing £17.68 (M&S) and £15.02(Lidl).

The UMS study commissioned by the Belfast Telegraph has identified the value of shopping around — not by completely switching allegiance to another store, but by making informed choices based on competitively priced products available at different outlets.

Abandoning a higher cost convenience store in favour of lesser known brands at a cost discounter could, for instance, mean annual savings of more than £400, based on these 12 particular products.

Likewise, a switch from a traditional supermarket to Lidl could save more than £100 on the selected foodstuffs alone.

But, by choosing to source each individual item at the least expensive outlet, householders could reap benefits in savings of up to £10 per shop, based on calculations between the dearest and cheapest baskets.

In other words — and notwithstanding the impracticality of visiting various outlets — a ‘shop around’ on the aforementioned goods could result in a cost difference of 71% per basket, which could equate to over £500 a year.

Interestingly, the study also revealed that a ‘substitute shop’ (ie, replace brands with in-house products) at M&S worked out only 1.6% more expensive than an average supermarket basket, based on Northern Ireland’s three main players, whereas Lidl was 16% cheaper.

Given the fact that the cost of food has been rising phenomenally fast over the last 12 months alone, discerning shoppers can vote with their feet — or rather their trolleys — if they are aware of these pricing vagaries.

In other words, the message from the Belfast Telegraph is that smarter shopping equals savings.

All prices based on UMS research carried out on 4/9/08 and 5/9/08 at various outlets across Belfast and the greater Belfast area

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