Popular Supermarket Shelf Items: Prices Compared UK and Australia

Four weeks ago I compared prices for fresh fruit and veg. I followed that up with a look at fresh meat prices. Then, to complete my trilogy, a couple of weeks ago I compared the prices of Australian and UK fresh fish.

Obviously a trilogy cannot have a part four, because then it would need to be called something else. What that is, I really don’t know. Maybe it’s a quadrilogy or just simply a quartet, either way, I’ve now decided to add a part four.

Popular supermarket shelf items

Faced products on a supermarket shelfFor this particular comparison I wanted to choose 10 of the most popular supermarket items, the kind of things many people just can’t do without. There would be nothing fresh in this list, it’s mostly packaged and processed foods.

The first items that popped into my head were milk, sugar, tea and coffee. Then I got stuck. So I Googled ‘top 20 supermarket items‘ and the most relevant result on the first page was about the top 20 grocery items driving up your bill, from today.com.

It was a pretty good list, but did contain some of the fresh things we’ve already compared prices on, so I removed those. Then I threw out cigarettes (who cares?), prescription drugs (they are not in our supermarkets) and firewood; we don’t really use that much firewood in many places in Australia. I swapped their suggestion on margarine for butter, because it felt like the right thing to do.

That left me with a final list of 12.

Buying system

I then needed a buying system, a way of purchasing like for like. Trying to buy the same brand in each of our countries just wasn’t going to work, so my plan was simple; buy the cheapest of each.

The cheapest, and the same size, going for the biggest where possible to get the best value. If I couldn’t get the same size from each country, I would adjust the price of the UK item so that it matched the size of the Australian one.

So, with the milk, I didn’t care about full fat, skimmed, extra calcium, added vitamins or the colour of the lid, I just bought the cheapest and the biggest available and made a slight size adjustment.

Cheapest and biggest, like for like. Oh, and with the canned vegetables, I went with tomatoes. I had to, my wife told me to. So let’s go shopping.

First up, the UK:

uk supermarketPrices courtesy of Tesco

Now the Australian prices:

Aussie supermarketPrices courtesy of Woolworths

What was interesting about this comparison was that Tesco seem to have a cheap brand, and then a very cheap brand. For example, with the spaghetti, they had ‘Tesco Spaghetti’ which was 99p per kilo, and then they had the supercheap ‘Everyday Value’ brand which was half the price of that.

Same happened with the teabags, and with the coffee, the tomatoes, the flour, well, pretty much most of the other items. Woolworths just had ‘Homebrand’ and it’s difficult to know how that compares with either the standard Tesco brand or the Everyday Value brand. It did have a fair impact on these results though.

How your Homebrand morning cuppa would compare with your Everyday Value cup of tea in the morning though, I just don’t know.

Conclusion

At £12.08 and with a currency exchange rate of just about two Australian dollars for every one English pound today, our maths is easy. The UK supermarkets stuff cost the equivalent of $24 AUD compared with 3 cents short of $30 here, so the Australian popular items from supermarket shelves were a whopping 25% more expensive than they are in the UK.

So this one is a definite victory for the UK.

When you consider that salaries are generally much higher in Australia though and that we did much better in most of the other previous mentioned food category prices, it’s still a case of swings and roundabouts.

I hear it said so often in Australia that food is much cheaper in the UK, but my quartet of posts on the subject just haven’t shown that to be the case at all.

That’s what I reckon, but I suspect some people might say I’m off my trolley.

For more food comparison prices between Australia and the UK, see…

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Jon January 26, 2018, 3:48 am |

    I have to take issue with some of the comments I see on the comparative costs of supermarket shopping.
    I shop regularly for kitchen food in suburban Uk (yes Tesco) and Perth ( Coles, Woolies) and for me it’s clear.
    For cupboard items, UK is cheaper. For fresh meat and fish, usually Australia. Fruit and Veg almost always UK. A real difference is the variation in price week by week in Australia. I can go into Tesco 364 days a year and the price will always be exactly or about the same and cheaper than you will ever find in Australia. What is surprising is the fact that a wide choice of tropical produce is always available year round and half the price of Coles.
    So shopping overall is a fair bit more expensive, but so are salaries so it all evens out.
    Of course in Tesco I can choose between probably ten different Australian wines for under £6 (say Aud10-12), but might choose European alternatives of which there will be many more around £5.
    And what really shocks visitors is the price of beer, either from a bottle shop or pub….Scandanavian levels!
    Best to be teetotal in Oz!
    In terms of choice, the range of brands and variants for a particular item….tinned tomatoes?, detergent? cheeses? is just so much narrower in Coles…but how many do you need?
    Most UK supermarkets stock a wide range of non UK staples, both for our immigrants but also us natives tend to be quite adventurous in our diet now.
    Asian food anyway, is also widely available in Australia but tends to come from dedicated stores rather than Coles or Woolies.
    I would also say our suburban supermarkets tend to be larger and carry lots of non food items because they are stand alone whereas in Australia they are often part of Shopping Centres.
    So there are important differences, but no one should feel they won’t be able to afford to eat or get the items they want in either country.

    • BobinOz January 29, 2018, 6:55 pm |

      That’s a pretty accurate summation Jon and by and large I pretty much agree with everything you have said here. I’ve now added a few more links to the foot of this article to other food comparison posts that I’ve written.

      I also concluded meat to be cheaper here, fish seem to be about the same and as you can see in the above article, popular shelf products came out cheaper in the UK, as you have said. The only difference I came up with is on fruit, when I did some comparisons fruit actually ended up being cheaper in Australia but vegetables were cheaper in the UK leaving the fruit and veg as a group about the same in both countries.

      Those price fluctuations are weird here though, and I have mentioned that a few times around this website, I know that the cucumber can cost a dollar on one day and then $3 the next. Very strange.

      Thanks for your input, Bob

  • Ian June 12, 2017, 1:32 am |

    Just a suggestion. You say that exchange rates don’t matter once you are ensconced in Oz and that Australian salaries are higher than those in the UK, which I can totally see. Perhaps a more representative way to present prices would be how many minutes (or seconds, or hours, or whatever time unit you like as long as it’s consistent) it would take to earn the price of each item in each country. So, for example, it may take 90 seconds (on an average UK wage) to earn a loaf of bread in the UK but only 85 seconds (on an average Australian wage) to do the same in Oz. (I’m making those figures up!)

    • BobinOz June 12, 2017, 10:00 pm |

      Yes, couldn’t agree more, it’s an excellent idea. I’ve actually been using that idea myself for a few years now, I call my unit the hard yakka. You can read about it here…

      https://www.bobinoz.com/blog/10867/hard-yakka-and-the-cost-of-living-in-australia/

      What surprises me though is that I didn’t end this article by comparing the prices using the hard yakka, and I usually do. For example, in a post about meat prices I said…

      ‘The average Australian would need to work for about four and a half hours to pay for the meat, where as the average UK worker would need to work well over seven hours to do the same.’ See…

      https://www.bobinoz.com/blog/19391/fresh-meat-australian-and-uk-prices-compared/

      It was a bit remiss of me not to do it on this post so thanks for reminding me, I’ll make sure I include it on all future cost comparisons. Thanks, Bob

  • pete taylor May 20, 2016, 3:54 am |

    It must be difficult to do a price comparison between two countries
    if you take into acount of 1] transport distants must put the cost up in Oz,
    where as if you fall out of bed in the UK you’ve got the country covered.
    2] Unit cost as there is a few more people in the UK to sell to, ie more sold cheaper the unit price.

    • BobinOz May 20, 2016, 8:57 pm |

      And, when you take all that into account, that’s probably why I think Australian food prices are standing up pretty well. Given the low population and the sheer size of this country, you would expect a lot of things to be much more expensive, and actually, they’re not.

  • Aaron May 19, 2016, 10:51 am |

    If you shopped at an Aldi store, it would be less than or equal to the UK prices. Wollies and Coles are a rip off.

    • BobinOz May 19, 2016, 7:27 pm |

      Yes, I’m sure it would have been, but then I would have had to shop at Aldi in the UK as well. In order to do like for like, I simply chose each countries biggest supermarket chain by sales volume.

      • Aaron May 19, 2016, 9:45 pm |

        Fair enough.

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