Need to know
- Aldi wins the gong yet again for the cheapest groceries
- In the absence of a nearby Aldi, shopping around for specials and choosing supermarket brands over national brands can make a significant difference to your grocery bills
The CHOICE quarterly Consumer Pulse surveys consistently find that the cost of food and groceries is a significant concern for Australians. The most recent survey reported that 63% of Australians are concerned about the current costs of household food and grocery expenses, topped only by concerns about the cost of electricity.
In addition, more than two in three (70%) Australians think household bills and expenses have increased over the last 12 months. Value for money is a major concern for consumers, so we wrote a shopping list of 29 items, grabbed our green bags and hit the supermarkets to see where the biggest bargains can be found.
It comes as no surprise that Aldi once again has the cheapest groceries.
Our basket of national brand products cost on average $145.23 at Coles and $141.83 at Woolworths (including specials), while a comparable basket of Aldi brand products was $80.75 (including specials). That's a saving of $61.08 – $64.48, assuming you're prepared to forgo national brand products. If you opt for even more budget options where available, you could save as much as 54% when buying your groceries from Aldi, rather than shopping for national brands at Coles and Woolworths.
Intensive price monitoring between the duopoly means that grocery prices at both chains are very closely matched. Just $3.40 (2.3%) separated the prices (including specials) of our national brand basket of 29 items at Coles and Woolworths. We found that the items on special each week will have the greatest bearing on the final price.
The independent chain IGA has historically been the most expensive place to shop, particularly if you're looking at regular shelf prices. However, when comparing an identical basket of national brand groceries, the IGA basket price in our survey, including specials, was on par with the supermarket giants.
At $142.79, IGA's basket of national brands was slightly more expensive than Woolworths ($141.83) and slightly cheaper than Coles ($145.23). When we removed the fresh fruit and vegetables from the basket to establish a 'branded' basket, IGA was in fact the cheapest by a small margin – a testament to IGA's 'price match promise' and attributed to the heavily discounted laundry liquid at IGA at the time of our shop. If you can find some of your favourite items on special at IGA, it pays to take advantage of the discount.
Switching to Coles and Woolworths supermarket brand groceries – also known as 'private label', 'house' or 'own' brand – can offer significant savings. Compared to our national brand basket, you could save $57.67 at Coles and $54.90 at Woolworths for the equivalent private label branded basket – that's a saving of 40% and 39% at the major supermarkets respectively.
At $80.75, the Aldi basket was still the cheapest, while the basket of supermarket brand groceries cost on average $87.56 at Coles and $86.93 at Woolworths (including specials prices).
When shopping, keep an eye out for 'phantom brands', which are essentially supermarket brands in disguise. Woolworths has a number of these phantom brands in stores, a few of which appear in our grocery baskets:
- Armada cling wrap
- Balnea hand wash
- Clean laundry detergent
- Frey chocolate
- Shine dishwashing liquid
- Vevelle tissues.
It's suggested that by impersonating a branded item, phantom brands can help counter the lingering perception, of some customers, that supermarket brands are of lower quality. It's an interesting strategy, but not without risks. A phantom brand product may be good quality and value for money, but if customers discover they're buying a supermarket-owned product when they thought they were purchasing and supporting an independent brand, they might just end up feeling duped.
According to our 2021 CHOICE supermarket satisfaction survey, there's a perception among a number of respondents that Coles and Woolworths are replacing national brand products with their own supermarket brands, and annoyance with an ever-changing product range. So while choosing supermarket brands over national brands in Coles and Woolworths can save you money, consider the hidden cost associated with losing choice as smaller niche brands are squeezed off shelves.
Even further savings can be had by switching to budget-tier supermarket brand items. Bear in mind the quality and 'look and feel' of the items may not be directly comparable to that of national brands but if you're looking for savings, it's a great place to start.
We took our supermarket brand baskets and substituted items for budget versions where they were available. Coles has moved away from labelling its budget brand 'Smart Buy' and now calls this tier 'Coles' as it does with its supermarket brand. The obvious difference between the two tiers is price and packaging. Woolworths has rebranded its budget tier from Homebrand to Essentials.
Despite Coles and Woolworths having more budget-tier options in their baskets, Aldi still left us with more change in our pocket
We found budget versions for 12 of our basket items at Aldi, and for 15 items at Coles and 15 items at Woolworths. Despite the duopoly having more budget-tier options in their baskets, Aldi still left us with more change in our pocket. While it's not a huge difference, at $67.18 for 29 items, the Aldi basket was around $5–6 cheaper than the Coles ($72.93) and Woolworths ($72.89) baskets. While these prices are including specials, you wouldn't expect the price to change too much as specials are rarely offered on budget-tier groceries.
A major factor affecting your grocery bill comes down to the type of product you're buying – national brand, supermarket brand or budget brand. Keep in mind that within the same supermarket you could save up to $14.63 by purchasing the cheapest brand equivalent of the supermarket brand item, a decrease in cost of 17%.
In the year to March 2020, Australians spent a staggering $94.6 billion in supermarkets with Woolworths Group and Coles Group taking 67.5% of that total.
According to a 2019 analysis by Roy Morgan Research, the supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths rake in almost 60% market share between them. However, Aldi continues to show growth. While it's still a way off Coles and Woolworths, it holds almost half the market share of Coles. According to Roy Morgan CEO Michele Levine, "Aldi's customer penetration numbers are also growing strongly. The number of people who visit an Aldi store in an average four-week period has surged 8% since a year ago."
It's no surprise that Woolworths and Coles have the largest market share in Australia. Aldi is the third-largest retailer in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland, while Foodland is the third-largest retailer in South Australia, and IGA is the third-largest retailer in Western Australia.
While we found that where you live can affect how much you pay at the supermarket, we were pleased to find that when considering discounted prices, the difference isn't huge.
Queensland and Western Australia offered the cheapest average cost in our national brand basket ($140.67 and $140.25 respectively), however differences in cost between locations (and supermarkets) can be largely determined by which products are discounted. And when we look at supermarket brand or budget-tier baskets, then Queensland and Western Australia were the most expensive.
- Supermarket brand products are those manufactured by another company but sold under the supermarket's own brands, including Coles, Woolworths or Aldi's bespoke brands. Supermarket brands are sometimes referred to as 'private label', 'house', 'store' or 'own' brands.
- National brand products are those sold in most if not all major supermarket chains. The national brand products priced in our survey were selected for having one of the highest grocery value shares within that product category.
Supermarkets and locations
We sent undercover shoppers into 120 supermarkets – 35 Woolworths, 34 Coles, 29 Aldi and 22 IGA stores – in 35 locations across Australia in April 2021. Supermarket locations were chosen to give good coverage of socio-economic status and geographic spread across the country. We surveyed supermarkets in clusters so that each store has local competition.
Grocery basket items
Our full grocery basket consisted of 29 items, 26 of which were packaged products, either national brand or comparable supermarket brand/budget brand options (including beef mince and eggs), with three fresh fruit and vegetable items (apples, bananas and broccoli) completing the list.
In the 2021 survey, all prices recorded were 'with special' (or as they were on the day of the shadow shop) across all supermarkets. Therefore there is no price comparison excluding the specials price, where it was available.
For more details on how we survey, see How we survey supermarket grocery prices.
Previous grocery basket winners
2017 – Aldi
2015 – Aldi
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.