SHOPPERS trying to save money are being bamboozled by confusing product labels, consumer group Which? has warned.
There are fears that customers are overpaying for their food shop every week because it is too difficult to find the best deals.
It is calling on supermarkets to make pricing clearer so customers can easily find the best value products.
Sue Davies, head of food policy at Which?, said: "At a time when food prices are a huge concern, unit pricing can be a useful tool for shoppers to compare and choose the cheapest groceries.
"But unclear supermarket pricing means the vast majority of people are left struggling to find the best deal."
Shoppers are often advised to look at the unit price on products (for example, the per ml or per gram cost) when shopping for the best deal – this makes it easier to compare similar items of different sizes.
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But research by Which? found that 72% of people could not work out the cheapest item when comparing products in store.
It said, for example, there were up to 17 different sized bottles of Coca-Cola in some supermarkets, making it almost impossible for shoppers to compare deals.
At Tesco, the price of fizzy drink varied from 11p per 100ml to 50p per 100ml, depending on which size bottle shoppers chose.
Customers who selected a 1.5litre bottle of Coca-Cola at Tesco would pay £1.68, compared with £5 for four 250ml glass bottles of the drink (a total volume of 1 litre).
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As part of its investigation, Which? tracked the price of 10 popular groceries including milk, instant coffee and Dairy Milk chocolate, at the Big Four supermarkets for three months.
Which? also visited branches of nine major supermarket chains to see how unit prices varied.
Some of the "dodgy deals" it has named and shamed in its investigation include:
- Missing unit pricing on Penguin bars in Waitrose
- No unit pricing on Muller puddings in Tesco on multibuy with loyalty card
- Unit pricing of peppers in Lidl "per piece", "each" and "per kg"
- Unit pricing of confectionary in Iceland obscured by £1 promotional banner
- No unit pricing on yellow sticker price for steak in Tesco
At Morrisons, shoppers could end up paying 133% extra for semi-skimmed milk if they selected the wrong carton.
A 500ml bottle was 65p, compared to a 2.27 litre one at £1.27. Which? said milk prices varied between 6p and 13p per 100ml.
Which? said terminology on labels was also confusing, with fruit and veg price per pack, per kilo, or per item, making it difficult to compare.
Special offers, price reductions and multibuy deals were also frequently not reflected in pricing, making it hard for customers to understand if they were getting a good deal.
At Tesco, unit prices were not shown on Clubcard deals.
Which? has called on supermarkets to make pricing clearer to help customers struggling in the cost of living crisis.
Do shops have to show unit prices?
Stores are obligated to show unit pricing, under legislation known as the Price Marking Order 2004.
It lays out that a unit price should be "unambiguous, easily identifiable and clearly legible".
However, Which? points out that the rules don't specify that unit prices are uniform – that means different measurements may be used for similar products, making it difficult to compare.
Which? has previously complained to the Competition and Markets Authority and made suggestion on how to improve unit pricing.
Which?'s Davies said: "Small savings can add up and make a big difference but unless supermarkets make unit pricing much more prominent, legible and consistent – as well as displaying it on their promotional offers – people will continue to risk missing out on getting the best value.”
Which? approached Aldi, Amazon Fresh, Asda, Iceland, Lidl, M&S, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose for comment.
A Lidl spokesperson said: “We always endeavour to ensure that pricing information is as clear as possible for our customers so that they can make informed purchasing decisions.”
A Waitrose spokesperson said: “We regularly review all our products to ensure our unit pricing is clear and consistent, so that customers can compare prices and save money. Our Partners are always on hand to assist customers with any pricing queries.”
How to save on your supermarket shop
Grocery prices are soaring and many shoppers are trying to cut their spending as the cost of living crisis rumbles on.
From moving to a cheaper supermarket, looking out for yellow-sticker discounts, and downshifting to own-brand products, there are ways to cut your costs.
You can also change the way you trawl the aisles to find savings. Head to the world foods aisle for store cupboard staples, says consumer expert Vix Leyton.
"This aisle typically has great value options on herbs and spices. It's also good for essentials like tinned tomatoes and chickpeas," she said.
Many items can be picked up for less in the frozen aisle – particularly fruit and veg.
Cheaper priced items are often placed on the bottom shelf at supermarkets – so be sure to look beyond the eye-level shelves when ticking things off your shopping list.
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If you shop for groceries online, TopCashback's browser extension tool will automatically notify you of any deals and cashback available when you’re shopping.
Look out for new customer discount too – you can usually get money-off your first online shop with the major supermarkets.
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