Supermarket price survey

And the cheapest chain is ... Aldi.
 
Learn more
 
 
 
 
 
  • Updated:3 Jul 2007
 

01 .Introduction

Brown shopping bag full of groceries

Which is the cheapest supermarket chain?

It's an important question, when you consider how much money you spend on groceries during a year.

To find out the answer we sent shadow shoppers to purchase a basket of 33 specific items from 111 supermarkets around the country.

Of the majors, Coles was the cheapest chain with the basket of goods costing $97.47. Its stores had 10 of our 33 items on sale during the survey, which took place on the randomly selected dates of 14 and 15 March. At Woolworths which had only two or three items on sale, the basket came in at $105.43 - 8% more than Coles.

However, when the items on special were removed from the basket, the difference in price between the two major supermarket chains dropped from 8% to 3% in favour of Coles.

The basket included 28 branded products and five staples. Meat, and fresh fruit and vegetables were not included.

In the eastern states, the discount supermarket chain Aldi was the cheapest place to shop with the equivalent basket of goods costing only $55.70.

Since we last surveyed supermarket prices in 2003, the price of the basket has gone up 13% on average at Woolworths, and 11% at Coles – excluding specials.

The cheapest city to buy your groceries in was Rockhampton in Queensland with an average basket price of $99.59. This knocks Newcastle, NSW, from the position it has held for the last nine CHOICE supermarket surveys.

Queensland was the cheapest state, followed by South Australia, Victoria, Australian Capital Territory and New South Wales. The most expensive state was Tasmania, followed by Western Australia and the Northern Territory.

What you'll get in this report:

  • Price changes in basket items since 2003. Some prices have increased by more than 40%.
  • Average basket prices in each state.
  • Cheapest cities in 2007, compared to 2003.

You'll also get basket prices for 111 supermarkets across Australia, including:

  • ACT: Canberra
  • QLD: Brisbane, Gold Coast, Rockhampton, Townsville
  • NSW: Central Coast, Dubbo, Forster, Newcastle, Sydney, Wagga Wagga, Wollongong
  • NT: Darwin
  • SA: Adelaide, Mt Gamber
  • TAS: Hobart, Launceston
  • VIC: Ballarat, Geelong, Melbourne, Wodonga
  • WA: Albany, Perth

Please note: this information was current as of July 2007 but is still a useful guide today.


How we surveyed

36 shadow shoppers were asked to price items from CHOICE's shopping list. Each shopper was sent to between two and six supermarkets.

The survey included 33 products, including 28 brand-name items and five non-branded staples. Where possible (in 24 cases), the items in the basket were kept the same as in the 2003 basket so a comparison could be made. The cheapest available staples were chosen. No fresh vegetables, fruit or meat products were surveyed, due to variations in availability and condition of the produce.

In total, our shadow shoppers visited 111 supermarkets in 23 cities. These included Coles, Woolworths/Safeway, IGA and one Aldi store (as Aldi maintains a single-price policy across its stores). We gave supermarkets no warning of the survey, so they wouldn’t have time to change their prices.

Supermarkets were chosen in clusters of approximately 2 km so they’d be more likely to be competing with each other. Independent supermarkets were included if they were within 5 km of another supermarket.

To determine whether basket prices had increased or decreased since 2003, the prices of the 24 products that are comparable between this year’s survey and the 2003 survey were analysed.

 
 

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Your first visit to an Aldi supermarket may be a surprise — brands you’ve never heard of, no-one to pack your bags for you and an underwhelming range of stock. But if it’s value for money you’re looking for, you can’t look past it. Aldi has the unique strategy of buying all its products in bulk from manufacturers and then packaging them with its own brand names, which helps the chain keep its prices low.

Consistent with our previous survey, Aldi remained the most cost-effective option in supermarket land, with its own-brand basket costing almost half the price of the baskets of equivalent brands from the major supermarkets. (Although the items in the baskets weren’t always directly comparable in terms of size, when making the comparison we adjusted the prices of the Aldi products to match the size of their equivalent branded counterparts.)

The Aldi basket cost our shadow shopper just $55.70, compared to the average of directly comparable items in the major supermarkets’ baskets, which was $100.34 One of the items, anti-perspirant deodorant, cost $5.63 on average at the major supermarkets but only $1.69 at Aldi — less than a third of the supermarket cost.

Surprisingly, despite the inflation rate for food, the price of Aldi products has actually decreased by 0.7% since our 2003 price survey. Aldi Managing Director Buying, John Joyce, told CHOICE "As the business has grown in Australia, ongoing efficiency gains have helped us keep our costs low, and we have provided genuine competition in grocery retailing by passing these savings onto customers."

John Joyce also says that "Aldi is committed to providing our customers with top-quality products at incredibly low prices." While we recommend Aldi on a price basis, at this time we have compared the quality of very few Aldi products against other brands. A quality comparison will be coming in CHOICE later this year, but in the meantime we recommend you try Aldi for yourself and see if you like the quality — you’ll certainly notice the savings in your pocket.

Unfortunately for savings-hungry shoppers on the west coast, Aldi isn’t Australia-wide. It’s expanded since our last survey in 2003, growing from 39 stores back then to over 140 stores in NSW, the ACT, Victoria and now Queensland. It plans to have 200 stores open on the east coast by the end of 2008.

Cheapest supermarkets

  Comparison between Coles, Woolworths and IGA basket prices in all cities surveyed
Including specials Excluding specials
Store (number surveyed) Average basket price ($) Comparison with average Average basket price ($) Comparison with average
Coles (30) 97.47 6.0% cheaper 104.87 3.2% cheaper
Woolworths/Safeway (28) 105.43 1.6% more expensive 107.49 0.8% cheaper
IGA (14) 108.3 4.4% more expensive 112.72 4.2% more expensive

Table notes

Aldi's basket of items cost just $55.70. However, Aldi is not included in this table because it sells only its own brands, so is not directly comparable with other supermarkets.

How the supermarket chains compare

There was no runaway winner in terms of the cheapest major supermarket. Although Coles had more specials at the time of our survey (with around 10 items in the basket on special, compared to around two or three items at Woolworths/Safeway), its prices were found to be only 2.6% cheaper than the Woolworths/Safeway basket when the specials were disregarded — $104.83 (1.3% below average) versus $107.66 (1.3% above average) for the Woolworths/Safeway basket.

Specials can make a substantial difference to your weekly shop, so it's a good idea to keep your eyes peeled for them when wandering the aisles. With specials included, the average Coles basket was 7.7% cheaper than the Woolworths/Safeway basket.

Although IGA is one of the largest groups of independent supermarkets and continues to grow in size, it still doesn’t offer tough competition for the two major supermarkets. When we compared Coles, IGA and Woolworths/Safeway baskets for price, the IGA basket was found to be the priciest at $108.30 (including specials) — 4% more expensive than average (see table for full results).

Since our last survey of supermarket prices in 2003, there’s been a 12% average increase in the cost of the CHOICE shopping basket from major supermarkets. This is lower than the 16% CPI rise in food in that period. (See  'Price hikes') for a table showing how much each item in the CHOICE basket has increased or decreased in price since 2003.)

More specials also probably contribute to a difference in how much the two major supermarkets have gone up in price since 2003. It's clear even from a glance at the store-by-store percentage increases from 2003 in the stores surveyed in both years that Woolworths/Safeway has gone up considerably more than Coles: on average 14% vs 6%, including specials.

Some Woolworths/Safeway stores rose in price by as much as 17% or 18% for the items in the CHOICE basket, while one Coles store's prices even fell by 1%. The difference in price rise when you exclude specials is smaller: on average 11% higher for Coles versus 13% for Woolworths/Safeway. 

04.Survey results tables

 
AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Canberra, ACT
1 Coles, Belconnen 97.75 8
2 Coles, Tuggeranong 98.40 na
3 Coles, Phillip 100.48 10
4 Woolworths, Phillip 105.48 13
5 Woolworths, Tuggeranong 105.58 na
6 Woolworths, Belconnen 107.69 18


NEW SOUTH WALES
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Central Coast, NSW
1 Coles, Woy Woy 97.41 6
2 Coles,Tuggerah 98.51 8
3 Woolworths, Tuggerah 106.21 15
4 Woolworths, Woy Woy 107.44 18
Dubbo, NSW
1 Coles, Dubbo 99.52 7
2 Woolworths, Dubbo 107.76 15
3 Dubbo West IGA, Dubbo 121.71 na
Forster, NSW
1 Coles, Forster 96.02 na
2 Woolworths, Forster 104.67 na
Newcastle, NSW
1 Coles, Belmont 95.65 8
2 Coles, The Junction 96.18 na
3 Coles, Charlestown 96.99 na
4 Woolworths, Charlestown 104.73 na
5 Woolworths, Mount Hutton 105.58 18
Sydney, NSW
1 Coles, Blacktown 95.67 4
2 Coles, Castle Hill 96.98 na
3 Coles, Liverpool 97.30 5
4 Coles, Hurstville 97.62 9
5 Coles, Hornsby 98.15 6
6 Coles, Bondi Junction 98.70 na
7 Woolworths, Bondi Junction 105.42 na
8 Woolworths, Blacktown 105.97 15
9 Woolworths, Liverpool 107.24 17
10 Woolworths, Hornsby 107.55 14
11 Supa IGA, Castle Hill 113.27 na
Wagga Wagga, NSW
1 Coles, Wagga Wagga 97.60 na
2 Woolworths, Wagga Wagga 109.92 na
Wollongong, NSW
1 Coles, Figtree 97.49 5
2 Coles, Corrimal 99.24 8
3 Woolworths, Figtree 106.15 15
4 Woolworths, Corrimal 108.76 17

THE NORTHERN TERRITORY
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Darwin, NT
1 Coles, Karama 98.93
4
2 Woolworths, Leanyer 107.73
15

QUEENSLAND
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Brisbane, Qld
1 Coles, Chermside 95.96 na
2 Coles, Upper Mt Gravatt 96.39 5
3 Coles, Kenmore 96.99 4
4 Coles, Browns Plains 97.20 5
5 Supa IGA, Regents Park 100.29 na
6 Woolworths, Browns Plains 103.91 11
7 Woolworths, Upper Mt Gravatt 104.55 10
8 Woolworths, Chermside 104.60 na
9 Woolworths, Kenmore 105.57 12
Gold Coast, Qld
1 Coles, Elanora 94.83 2
2 Coles, Nerang 95.89 3
3 Woolworths, Elanora 99.90 7
4 Woolworths, Nerang 100.71 12
5 IGA Highland Park, Nerang 112.75 na
Rockhampton, Qld
1 Coles, North Rockhampton 96.40 na
2 Supa IGA, North Rockhampton 98.50 na
3 Woolworths, North Rockhampton 103.88 na
Townsville, Qld
1 Coles, Aitkenvale 96.71 4
2 IGA, Aitkenvale 103.58 na
3 Woolworths, Aitkenvale 105.27 15

SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Adelaide, SA
1 Coles, Elizabeth 96.19 7
2 Coles, Kilkenny 98.77 na
3 Coles, Glenelg 99.31 9
4 Foodland IGA, Elizabeth 101.63 12
5 Woolworths, Kilkenny 102.38 13
6 Woolworths, Glenelg 103.09 13
7 Woolworths, Elizabeth 105.66 17
Mt Gambier, SA
1 Coles, Mt Gambier 96.91 6
2 Woolworths, Mt Gambier 104.62 15

TASMANIA
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Hobart, Tas
1 Coles, New Town 101.38 na
2 Coles, Sandy Bay 101.75 5
3 Woolworths, Sandy Bay 109.28 10
4 Woolworths, New Town 110.68 9
Launceston, Tas
1 Coles, Kings Meadows 99.56 2
2 Coles, Launceston 101.59 3
3 Coles, Newstead 102.69 na
4 Woolworths, Kings Meadows 110.45 9

VICTORIA
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Ballarat, Vic
1 Coles, Ballarat 98.62 na
2 Safeway, Ballarat 105.06 na
3 Ryans Supa IGA, Ballarat 105.43 na
Geelong, Vic
1 Coles, Corio 96.81 7
2 Coles, Belmont 97.85 4
3 Coles, Geelong 98.92 na
4 Safeway, Corio 105.07 11
5 Safeway, Geelong West 105.55 na
6 IGA Champions, Geelong West 107.02 na
Melbourne, Vic
1 Coles, Prahran 94.02 –1
2 Coles, Werribee 96.02 2
3 Coles, Doncaster East 96.83 na
4 Coles, Fountain Gate 99.34 na
5 Safeway, Werribee 103.59 na
6 FoodWorks, Narre Warren South 103.83 na
7 Safeway, Broadmeadows 103.95 10
8 Ritchies IGA, Fountain Gate 104.53 na
9 Safeway, Fountain Gate 106.93 na
10 Safeway, Prahran 107.04 13
11 Safeway, Doncaster East 107.26 na
Wodonga, Vic
1 Coles, Wodonga 101.26 9
2 Safeway, Wodonga 110.02 18

WESTERN AUSTRALIA
Store 2007 basket price ($) % increase
Albany, WA
1 Coles, Albany 98.65 8
2 Woolworths, Albany 107.80 16
3 Spencer Park Supa IGA, Albany 108.31 na
Perth, WA
1 Coles, Wanneroo 98.23 na
2 Coles, Fremantle 98.35 7
3 Coles, Midland 98.59 7
4 Woolworths, South Fremantle 102.85 na
5 Woolworths, Midland 106.86 na
6 Woolworths, Cottesloe 106.97 na
7 Supa IGA, Midland 107.92 na
8 Supa IGA, East Fremantle 110.32 na
9 Wanneroo IGA, Wanneroo 110.50 na

05.Cheapest cities and states

 

Cheapest cities

In the last nine CHOICE supermarket surveys (back to 1991) Newcastle in NSW has been the cheapest city across the country for grocery shopping. This year it was knocked off its perch by Rockhampton in Queensland, which had the survey’s lowest average basket price of $99.59, including specials. It’s only marginal, though — Newcastle’s basket is still very close at $99.83. See the table below for results for all the surveyed cities.

  Cheapest cities in 2007 compared to 2003
Rank 2007 Rank 2003 City 2007 average basket price ($)
1 na Rockhampton 99.59
2 1 Newcastle 99.83
3 na Forster 100.35
4 8 Brisbane 100.61
5 3 Mt Gambier 100.77
6 10 Gold Coast 100.82
7 2 Adelaide 101
8 4 Townsville 101.85
9 13 Geelong 101.87
10 14 Melbourne 102.12
11 11 Sydney 102.17
12 9 Central Coast 102.39
13 17 Canberra 102.56
14 12 Wollongong 102.91
15 na Ballarat 103.04
16 19 Darwin 103.33
17 23 Launceston 103.57
18 na Wagga Wagga 103.76
19 21 Perth 104.51
20 5 Albany 104.92
21 18 Wodonga 105.64
22 24 Hobart 105.77
23 22 Dubbo 109.66
 

 

Table notes

  • Aldi not included.
  • The 2007 average basket price includes specials.

Cheapest states

There’s good news for Queenslanders: their state has taken over from SA as the cheapest for supermarket shopping. Again, it’s close, and SA isn’t far behind, but it’s an interesting change. The next time we do a supermarket price survey we’ll be interested to find out whether this is a continuing trend or just a one-off finding caused by the specific items and stores we chose to include.

Tasmanians are still paying the most for groceries, with their average basket costing $104.67. WA was only a few cents cheaper, ousting the Northern Territory from second-most-expensive slot. The NT’s average basket price was $103.33, around $3 cheaper than the two most expensive states.

And NSW shoppers are probably noticing the biggest impact on their pockets — this state moved from second-cheapest in 2003 to fifth position this year. That makes it the most expensive state apart from the NT, Tasmania and WA, whose higher prices are likely to be due at least in part to transport costs. Full state results are in the table below.

  Cheapest states in 2007 compared to 2003
Rank 2007 Rank 2003 State (number of stores 2007/2003) 2007 average basket price ($)
1 3 Queensland (20/24) 100.69
2 1 SA (9/11) 100.95
3 4 Victoria (22/27) 102.50
4 5 ACT (6/6) 102.56
5 2 NSW (31/38) 102.63
6 7 NT (2/3) 103.33
7 6 WA (12/17) 104.61
8 8 Tasmania (8/7) 104.67
 

Table notes

  • Aldi not included.
  • The 2007 average basket price includes specials.
Although the overall price increase of the shopping basket was 12% since our last survey, some single items increased considerably in price. Goulburn Valley Peach Slices, for instance, rose from $2.53 to $3.70 in the past four years — a 46% increase. The cheapest available canola oil and SPC Baked Beans saw increases of 45% and 40% respectively.

At the other end of the scale, some food items decreased in price by a small percentage. The cheapest brand of sour cream dropped by 3%, while Heinz Greenseas Tuna Chunks in Brine and San Remo Large Spiral Pasta both dropped by 1%.

The table below shows changes in the average price of basket items (not on special) from 2003-2007.

Total price change
 
  12%
Cheapest light sour cream (300 mL)
-3%
 
Heinz Greenseas Tuna Chunks in Brine (425 g)
-1%  
 
San Remo Large Spirals (500 g)
-1%
 
Libra Ultra Thins Regular Pads with Wings (14)
 
3%
Lipton Quality Black Tea Bags (100 teabags)
 
4%
Sakata BBQ Rice Crackers (100 g)
 
4%
Cheapest full-cream milk (1 L)
 
5%
Cheapest white sliced bread (700 g)
 
6%
Arnott’s Tim Tam Original (200 g)
 
7%
Jif Cream Cleanser (375 mL)
 
7%
Sunrice Premium White Long Grain Rice (2kg)
 
7%
McCain Frozen Peas (500 g)
 
8%
Cheapest bacon middle rashers (250 g)
 
8%
Chum Canned Dog Food (1.2 kg)
 
10%
Cottees Strawberry Conserve (500 g)
 
10%
Kraft Singles Cheese Slices (12 slices)
 
14%
Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate Block (250 g)
 
16%
Ski D’Lite Yoghurt (2 x 200 g)
 
17%
CSR White Sugar (2 kg)
 
23%
Moccona Freeze Dried Instant Coffee (100 g)
 
23%
Coca-Cola (1.25 L)
 
27%
SPC Baked Beans (425 g)
 
40%
Cheapest canola oil (750 mL)
 
45%
Goulburn Valley Peach Slices (825 g)
 
46%
 

Note: these changes don't include Aldi, because its own-brand products can't be directly compared with the brands we priced in other supermarkets. We priced some new items this year too, which aren't shown because they can't be compared with 2003 prices.

It’s been a busy four years in the supermarket industry since our last survey. Among the changes:

  • Coles Group (which acquired the chain Bi-Lo in the late 1980s) has begun converting all Bi-Lo stores into Coles supermarkets.
  • Coles has also made public its intention to sell the company, which also includes Target, Kmart, Officeworks and Liquorland.
  • Foodland Australia Limited (FAL) was the supplier to supermarkets such as Dewsons and Supa Valu and had a supermarket division called Action. It’s now been taken over by Metcash (supplier to IGA) and as a result most Action supermarkets have been converted to IGA supermarkets. Most of the supermarkets that used to be supplied by FAL in WA also agreed to adopt the IGA banner.
  • A merger between FoodWorks and Australian United Retailers (AUR) resulted in all AUR stores (such as Buy Rite and Cut Price) being rebranded as FoodWorks supermarkets.
  • Aldi has continued to grow since 2003, expanding in NSW, the ACT, Victoria and Queensland. It has now approximately 140 stores across the east coast of Australia.
  • Both Coles and Woolworths/Safeway have released their own private-label products, which is resulting in other smaller brands being dropped from their shelves.