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Value Supermarket Ranges - How Do Prices Compare - I investigate...

Updated: Jun 17




With many UK residents now financially struggling due to the increase in food and energy prices, and with the interest rate now being pushed up to 1%, pushing those on variable mortgages potentially even further into the red, I've taken a look to see if the "value" range products from supermarkets do return much of a saving, and if so, are you sacrificing quality, for quantity?


Coincidentally, I started investigating this subject on the day a cabinet minister was accused of being out of touch after suggesting that consumers facing the most significant rise in shop prices in more than a decade should buy "value brands".

The 2.7% year-on-year increase in prices, reported by the British Retail Consortium-NielsenIQ price index, was the highest since September 2011 and up from 2.1% in March.


George Eustice, the environment secretary, said that it would "undoubtedly put a pressure on household budgets" already facing soaring energy bills.


He told Sky News: "Generally speaking, what people find is by going for some of the value brands rather than own-branded products - they can actually contain and manage their household budget."


Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Pat McFadden, responded, "This is woefully out of touch from a government with no solution to the cost of living crisis facing working people.


"People are seeing their wages fall, fuel and food costs rise, and families are worried about how to make ends meet."


And I would have to agree; it's pretty unhelpful to suggest that those really struggling may be able to turn their finances around by swapping their own brand food for value brands! The savings are there, yes, and with many supermarkets now actively cutting prices on food products, with Morrisons reducing the cost of some 500 products recently, and Asda saying it will spend £73m to cut or freeze prices on 100 products, there are certainly savings to be made, but long term can you really save enough money to save your budget? No, I doubt you can, but you can certainly use the value brands to stretch your budget, but I suspect it wouldn't be something you would look to switch to for every meal.


So, which value range offers the best value for money? That's hard to answer; there are so many supermarkets, each offering its own range of value products, with its own pricing structure, so comparing like for like isn't easy, but I had a plan!


I decided to buy the ingredients to make a pasta bake from nine of my local supermarkets and compare how the pricing stacked up between them.


I planned to purchase them below:


1x pack of pasta, around 500g

1x pack of minced beef around 500g

1x jar of pasta sauce around 350g, or whichever size the value jar turned out to be

1x smallest pack of cheese available


I wanted to make a decent meal; I didn't want to make one of those; make a meal for 25p per portion posts, where you get a spoonful and are then starving 30 minutes later! I'm a big guy, I have a manly appetite, and frankly, if I get a tiny portion, I will be raiding the fridge later, and that's pointless when it comes to money-saving! I hate those posts where someone eats two spoonfuls, undoes their belt and states they are 'so full' - that's not realistic, or maybe I'm just greedy. Still, either way, this will be a family-sized recipe with decent sized portions that will fill me up, and so very likely you too, and can easily be stretched out with garlic bread etc., if you are super hungry! For this experiment, I decided I could only buy from the supermarket's value or the supermarket's cheapest product range, and then from that, I would work out the price per portion based on a pasta bake made with the following ingredients:


300g of dried pasta

1x pack, as purchased, of minced beef

1x jar, as purchased of pasta sauce

100g of cheese for the pasta bake topping


Based on this recipe making four portions, I could determine the cost per portion from those ingredients.


You could reduce the cost by cutting out the meat, especially important for vegetarians or those needing to lower costs, and add any veggies you have in the fridge or by buying a bag of value frozen veggies to the recipe to bulk it out, or perhaps use the pasta as a base and add a yellow sticker bargain, or look to grab a Too Good To Go bag from a local supermarket and see if you can stretch out the meal that way. Still, I'm assuming this is a minced beef pasta bake for this experiment.


I bought the same ingredients from Morrisons, Tesco, Asda, Iceland, Sainsbury's, Waitrose, Aldi, Lidl and M&S - I chose those supermarkets because they were large stores. I am aware that smaller, convenience sized stores would likely not offer the same level of choice as a larger supermarket it wouldn't be a fair comparison for this investigation, so my local Co-op, Nisa and other smaller stores weren't included, but that doesn't mean they haven't got the potential to be able to offer you a value range product to stretch your budget!


So how did I get On?

Morrisons


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g Minced beef 20% fat - £1.89

440g Jar of Savers pasta sauce - 39p

400g Mature white cheddar - £1.79

500g Savers Pasta - 29p


Total Purchase cost - £4.36

The total cost of meal ingredients - £2.91

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.73 per portion

(Cost without meat £0.25 per portion)

Tesco


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g Minced beef 20% fat - £1.89

440g Jar Hearty Food Co pasta sauce - 39p

400g Creamfields Mature white cheddar - £1.89

500g Hearty Food Co Pasta - 29p


Total Purchase cost - £4.46

The total cost of meal ingredients - £2.93

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.74 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.25 per portion)


Asda


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g Minced beef 20% fat - £1.90

440g Jar Smartprice pasta sauce - 39p

825g Smartprice Mature white cheddar - £3.65

500g Smartprice Pasta - 32p


Total Purchase cost - £6.26

The total cost of meal ingredients - £2.91

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.73 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.25 per portion)


Iceland


I didn't manage to find a value brand for each of the four items needed; the supermarket had minimal own brand and value products; however, I decided to go with their cheapest possible options for the products I needed that weren't on a special promotion, as I thought it would be interesting to see how the prices compared. :


450g Minced beef 23% fat - £2.65

500g Jar Ragu Original Smooth pasta sauce - £1.00

400g Iceland Mature white cheddar - £2.50

750g Ragu Penne Rigate Pasta - £1.25


Total Purchase cost - £7.40

The total cost of meal ingredients - £4.79

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £1.20 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.42 per portion)


Waitrose


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g Essentials Minced beef 10% fat - £3.25

340g Jar Essentials Bolognese pasta sauce - £1.00

350g Essentials Mature white cheddar - £2.00

500g Essentials Pasta - 75p


Total Purchase cost - £7.00

The total cost of meal ingredients - £4.97

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £1.25 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.42 per portion)


Sainsbury's


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g Sainsbury's Minced beef 12% fat - £2.70

500g Jar Sainsbury's Tomato & Herb Bolognese pasta sauce - £0.70

900g Mary Ann Mature white cheddar - £3.99

1000g Hubbards Pasta Shapes Pasta - 58p


Total Purchase cost - £7.97

The total cost of meal ingredients - £3.90

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.98 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.33 per portion)


Lidl


It's worth noting that Lidl doesn't have its own brands; as a budget retailer, they offer competitively priced, branded and non branded products and also offer less choice than many of its rivals, so for this experiment, I've selected the cheapest offering available :


500g Birchwood Minced beef 10% fat - £2.49

500g Baresa pasta sauce - £0.55

400g Valley Spire white cheddar - £1.89

500g Baresa Pasta - 59p


Total Purchase cost - £5.52

The total cost of meal ingredients - £3.87

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.97 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.33 per portion)


Aldi


Similarly to Lidl, Aldi also doesn't have its own brands, and as a budget retailer, they offer competitively priced, branded and non branded products, and offer less choice than many of its rivals, so for this experiment, I've selected the cheapest offering available :


500g Ashfields Minced beef 20% fat - £1.89

500g Cucina pasta sauce - £0.59

400g Emporium white cheddar - £1.89

500g Cucina Pasta - 59p


Total Purchase cost - £4.96

The total cost of meal ingredients - £3.31

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £0.83 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.29 per portion)


M&S


I managed to find a value brand for each of the four items needed:


500g M&S Minced beef 20% fat - £2.10

340g M&S Classic Tomato Everything pasta sauce - £1.20

350g M&S Mature white cheddar - £2.00

1000g Essentials Pasta - £1.30


Total Purchase cost - £6.60

The total cost of meal ingredients - £4.26

Cost per portion based on my recipe rounded up to the nearest whole pence - £1.07 per portion.

(Cost without meat £0.38 per portion)


So there you have it, nine different retailers, all supplying their cheapest offerings to be able to make my pasta bake, and so let's look at the cheapest to most expensive:



Cheapest out of all nine supermarkets tested

Supermarket

Cost per portion

1st

​Morrisons & Asda Tie for 1st place

73p

2nd

Tesco

74p

3rd

Aldi

83p

4th

Lidl

97p

5th

Sainsbury's

98p

6th

M&S

£1.07

7th

Iceland

£1.20

8th

Waitrose

£1.25

Do the results surprise you at all? My expectation wouldn't be that far from the actual results. However, my surprise was M&S being more competitively priced against its rivals than I thought it would be!


It's still some 34p a portion, £1.36 more to buy from M&S than both Morrisons and Asda, so if you were trying to squeeze every possible penny from your budget, you would still buy elsewhere, but for such a prestigious retailer known for its quality, it might well sway me to buy from them, knowing it wasn't horrifically more expensive to buy M&S!


Realistically, looking at the results, the top 5 would all feed you for under £1 per portion, which isn't bad, and could most certainly help with your budget. This is only one meal; switching around other food products could very well keep the savings coming.


If you removed the meat, which is, of course, the most expensive part, you could be eating from 25p per portion, without the cost of adding in any extra veggies etc., which when money is tight, means four (albeit smaller), portions for just £1 total. The quality of the food is of course important! I can say that I was suitably impressed with everything I bought! The supermarkets seem to have moved away from the 'cheap and nasty' products that were for so long a reason I steered well clear of value ranges!


The pasta, meat and cheese all looked as good as the products I would buy usually; the meat was, on the whole, of a higher fat content than I would prefer to buy, as I like to buy under 5% fat, as it means we are consuming less fat and also the more fat you buy in your mince, the less meat you eat, as it renders away. Hence, it's less value for money, although as a pasta bake or spag bolognese, it's suitably bulked out, so you don't notice, but for meatballs or burgers, you will notice the 'shrinkage' in meat. That said, the higher the fat content, the tastier the meat; there's a good reason most burger masters like to use fattier meat!


The sauces were my main concern; I've had some pretty poor sauces in my time, some resembling tomato wallpaper paste, but these all looked ok, but if I'm honest, the Morrisons one looked the least appetising, so I made a pasta bake, which you will see pictures of further down the post, using the Morrisons ingredients so I could see what I was getting, and also top see what the joint winner's products tasted like. You know what, it tasted pretty good! It wasn't a branded sauce, I could tell, but it tasted fine, and as a pasta sauce snob, who likes to make his own, I thought it was perfectly edible and based on what it cost per portion from what I made, very good... not restaurant quality, but at probably 95% cheaper than a pasta bake at a restaurant, I was more than happy!


pasta bake receipts

I chose a pasta bake as it's a crowd-pleaser in my house, it's filling, fast to make ( I made mine in 20 minutes), and it's not unusual to have leftovers for the next day as well, stretching the food budget that little more, and its also easy to add bits and bobs sitting in the fridge too, to avoid food waste and bulk it out. Obviously, the bake I made didn't contain much in the way of veg, so for a healthier meal, the inclusion of veggies or perhaps a side salad wouldn't be a bad idea, but if you are looking for fast, cheap and filling, it's a great option!



I've also used fresh meat in my recipe; there is no reason why I couldn't have switched to a frozen meat variant instead. Using Morrisons as an example, the minced beef I bought worked out at £4.78 per kg, I could have switched to Morrisons frozen beef and pork mince instead, and this would have worked out at £3.50 per kg, taking about 60p off the price of my making my dish, so likely around the 58p per portion.









Conclusion

I think it's realistic for shoppers to be able to switch to the value ranges for their shopping, BUT equally am aware that the ranges are still small, and the savings aren't going to make a massive difference to your budgeting. They will help, though, and realistically nothing stops you from cycling through different value products to make other dishes. Still, shopping savvy could very well be just as financially prudent as swopping for value ranges:


  • Look out for yellow sticker discounts, with up to 90% off in some stores (in the evenings) Use apps such as Too Good To Go and Olio to grab discounted food products.

  • Look at the labels on products you buy and compare the price per kilo. Looking at the products I purchased for this experiment, the kilo price of cheese differed massively. Even products on promotion may not be cheaper per kilo than the value ranges, and sometimes they are, so check this kilo price.

  • Don't buy pre-shredded or sliced cheese; it's not unusual for these products to be £2 - £3 per kilo more than buying exactly the same cheese as a block! Also, shredded and sliced cheese often contains potato starch to stop the cheese from sticking together, so you are also paying to eat potato starch on top of the already higher price per kilo!

  • Check if a frozen version of what you are buying is available. Often the quality is identical, and the shelf life is far longer! Retailers add a premium to 'fresh' products, not because they are fresh, but because they know it's likely they aren't going to sell it all before it has to be reduced/disposed of, so you are paying extra to the retailer to make sure that they don't lose as much margin when something runs out of date! Put that margin in your freezer, not the retailer's pocket!

  • Have you made too much food? If so, don't put it in the fridge for 'later', most people won't use it, and it will be thrown away days later, pop it in the freezer every time you have extra, and then after a while, you will have several leftovers that can be combined to make a full meal, and it won't have cost you a penny!

  • Buy cheaper cuts of meat and use a slow cooker for cooking it. The cheaper cuts are generally of a lower quality, but slower cooking breaks down all muscle, which makes cheap meat tough, and results in a flavoursome meal at a lower cost plus, a slow cooker is more affordable to run than an oven, plus you can put it on in the morning and come home in the evening to a meal waiting for you, which also save you time and hassle!

  • Grow your own food! Use seeds from food, such as tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn, cucumbers and even fruit, to plant and grow your own. Just a few seeds from one tomato could supply you with dozens of tomatoes in the Summer - got a potato with shoots coming out? If so, pop it in a bucket of soil or container, and in a few months, you will have homegrown potatoes to enjoy - and then save the seeds from the products you have grown to then grow more... it's a wonderful cycle of cheap food!

  • Use supermarket cashback apps such as Checkoutsmart, GreenJinn and Shopmium to grab heavily discounted grocery products with up to 100% off.

  • Don't be embarrassed to seek help from a food bank! There is nothing wrong with asking for help; food banks are there for a reason, and that's to help you; everyone is in the same boat, so grab all the help you can!

  • Buy supermarket gift cards from apps such as Karma Cashback, Quidco and TopCashback to earn cashback on your shop - Going to spend £50 this week on groceries, then buy a £50 gift card for your supermarket and earn cashback with some supermarkets offering 4-5% cashback on your gift card purchase! The gift cards last for years and can also be used to buy petrol, which means you are paying less for your fuel - it's a no brainer!


Prices were correct as of 4th May 2022. Availability and pricing may change.



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