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Unit pricing confusion costs consumers

CHOICE says shoppers can save up to $1600 by comparing the unit price of food

27 March 2018

Consumer group CHOICE is calling for unit pricing to be improved following an investigation that found people can save up to $1600 a year by using unit pricing to compare the cost of loose and pre-packed food.

"Unit pricing is an important tool which helps shoppers compare and cut back on their grocery spend, but the system is far from perfect," says CHOICE Campaigns and Policy Team Lead, Katinka Day.

"Whether it's price tags that are too small to read, displaying different units of measurement or hiding the labels behind another sign, retailers make it difficult for consumers to find the best value product.

"Our investigation found several examples of how retailers trick the system to confuse shoppers. On Woolworths' website, packaged Birdseye and Jalapeno chillies were labelled differently with the unit price on packed chillies labelled 'per 100g', while the loose chillies were priced at per kilogram.[1]

"At Aldi, the cost of loose lemons and a five-pack were not possible to compare because one price was per kg while the other was priced as per item. Unless you weigh the lemons, it's hard to tell which option is cheaper."[2]

CHOICE compared the price of loose and pre-packed food items at Coles, Woolworths and Aldi supermarkets to determine how much people could save if they use unit pricing.

"While the majority of shoppers (57%) believe loose fruit and vegetables are sold at a cheaper price than those that come in a packet,[3] we found that's not always the case," says Ms Day.

"By using unit pricing to choose the cheapest food, our shoppers saved 20% at Aldi (on six items). There was a 19% saving on the grocery bill at Coles and Woolworths (on 28 and 30 items respectively)."

CHOICE found that if one of these baskets represented a weekly shop, consumers could save up to $1600 a year.[4]

"While some people will choose food and groceries with no plastic to limit their waste, using unit pricing can help anyone on a tight budget," says Ms Day.

"Unit prices are supposed to help consumers compare items fairly and retailers must apply them in a way that is easy to use."

"Unfortunately, the system is also only required in supermarkets that have a floor space of 1,000 square metres. Small supermarkets or other retailers such as pharmacies or hardware shops don't have to provide this essential information," says Ms Day.

With the 10-year review of unit pricing legislation taking place soon, CHOICE has launched a new unit pricing complaints tool for consumers to dob in the worst offenders.

"Whether it's poorly displayed prices or products that don't have a unit price displayed, we need Australians to help demonstrate where unit pricing isn't working and show the Federal Government that the system needs to be improved," says Ms Day.

If you've seen an example of unit pricing that's unclear or incorrect, or if it's not even available, send it to choice.com.au/unitpricingchampion

Common unit pricing issues

  • Text is too small to read
  • Text is too hard to find
  • Unit pricing isn't displayed for a product
  • Unit pricing information is incorrect
  • Unit pricing isn't consistent across tags
  • Unit pricing information is obscured (i.e. hidden by another tag or promotion sign)
  • Multi-buys or other sale promotions display inaccurate or incomplete unit pricing

Media inquiries

Tom Godfrey, CHOICE Head of Media and Spokesperson - 0430 172 669 - @choice_news

Background

Price survey carried out in store at Aldi and online at both Coles and Woolworths. We recorded the price of a range of products available in both loose and pre-packaged formats within each store (Aldi n=6, Coles n=28, Woolworths n=30). For each product, the two prices were recorded on the same day, and when on special we used the regular price. We then calculated the cost of the loose product if we were to purchase the same weight as the packed format and compared the difference in price.

To read our full investigation go to choice.com.au/grocery-unit-prices


[1] choice.com.au/grocery-unit-prices 

[2] choice.com.au/grocery-unit-prices 

[3] Total of 3075 respondents for two-week Voice Your Choice survey in February and March 2018 

[4] Yearly total based on 28 items by buying the format with the lowest unit price at Coles