Shopping around key to a smaller food bill

September 8, 2009

Shoppers face a complex and time-consuming task to get the best deal, depending on the store they buy food from and the item involved according to a new booklet "Public behavior in the UK in times of economic decline/rising food prices." Published by the Economic and Social Research Council it highlights that the reports of a "food price crisis" fail to notice large cost variations over time and by outlet.

The booklet is based largely on insights from two academic experts on pricing - Dr. Steven Cummins, of Queen Mary, University of London, and Professor Derek Oddy, Emeritus Professor of Economic and Social History at the University of Westminster - for a public policy seminar organised by the ESRC for the Food Standards Agency.

Dr Cummins draws on his research with Professor Sally MacIntyre, of the Medical Research Council, Social and Public Health Sciences Unit, Glasgow, and Dr Dianna M Smith, of Queen Mary, University of London. This included checking the prices of more than 50 standard food items in 250 stores in 1997, and 500 in 2007, ranging from multiples and discounters to greengrocers and delicatessens.

The researchers found that large real increases for some items over the 10 years were balanced by big falls for others, but with large variations between types of outlet and locations. Dr Cummins warns: "Failing to choose the right store could mean - in an extreme case - a price premium as high as 260 per cent for a tin of baked beans from a delicatessen (72p) compared with a discount store (20p)."

He points out: "Changes in prices for some healthy items, such as fruit and vegetables, outstrip both general and food inflation. For example, peas, carrots, onions and tomatoes are becoming increasingly expensive in real terms, so consumption of these items may fall for those customers who tend to be price sensitive." That said "some items we are urged to eat more of are getting cheaper in real terms, such as apples and bananas."

Providing an historical perspective, Professor Oddy explains that over the 20th century, the costs of raw food materials fell until the 1970s, and consumers spent proportionately less of their income on food to create meals at home.

But he points out that the 1970s saw price increases which make today's prices appear modest by comparison. Factors including decimalisation of the pound, adoption of the Common Agricultural Policy, with tariffs against cheap food from outside the EEC, along with soaring oil prices due to Middle East wars and the Iranian Revolution, had a marked effect.

By 1974, the index of retail food prices rose almost 55 per cent over a matter of four years, as Britain passed from a 'cheap' to a 'dear' food economy.

He continues: "Since the 1970s, as food technology and food processing have increased, the price of raw food material has become less significant, as more and more people have begun to buy processed materials and ready-prepared meals.

"The quality and price of these products are determined by food manufacturers and large retailers, and their emphasis is on appearance, packaging and flavour rather than nutrition."

Professor Oddy says: "The decline of domestic cookery skills is a significant factor in this trend, though the storage of food, preparation of it, and the costs of cooking it may well exceed heating frozen packet meals - while demographic factors, such as the shrinking size of the household, have reinforced the uneconomic nature of some domestic food preparation for only one or two people."

Food consumption outside the home has also increasingly destabilised domestic eating arrangements, he adds.

Source: Economic & Social Research Council (news : web)

Explore further: Pricing practices cost consumers

Related Stories

Pricing practices cost consumers

April 12, 2007

You may be paying more for that can of soup or loaf of bread, depending on whether they have an individual price sticker or not. A new study from the DeGroote School of Business finds grocery items individually priced with ...

As prices rise, find ways to trim grocery bills

May 5, 2008

The rising cost of gas, diesel fuel and other forms of energy can affect the price of many other things that we purchase, from milk and bread to coffee and sugar. It can be a real challenge to keep family food costs manageable ...

Healthy Foods more Expensive than Junk Foods

October 17, 2008

( -- Healthy foods are rising in price faster than their less healthy alternatives. This is the finding of research published in the October issue of Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Three billion Asians face food crisis threat: research

October 28, 2008

( -- The escalating cost of rice and other foodstuffs across Asia could cause the reversal of policy reforms, social unrest and deepening poverty for over 3 billion Asians – according to new research.

Recommended for you

Just how good (or bad) is the fossil record of dinosaurs?

August 28, 2015

Everyone is excited by discoveries of new dinosaurs – or indeed any new fossil species. But a key question for palaeontologists is 'just how good is the fossil record?' Do we know fifty per cent of the species of dinosaurs ...

Fractals patterns in a drummer's music

August 28, 2015

Fractal patterns are profoundly human – at least in music. This is one of the findings of a team headed by researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization in Göttingen and Harvard University ...

Pigments, organelles persist in fossil feathers

August 27, 2015

A study provides multiple lines of new evidence that pigments and the microbodies that produce them can remain evident in a dinosaur fossil. In the journal Scientific Reports, an international team of paleontologists correlates ...

Political polarization on Twitter depends on the issue

August 27, 2015

Twitter offers a public platform for people to post and share all sorts of content, from the serious to the ridiculous. While people tend to share political information with those who have similar ideological preferences, ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.