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Are loose fruit and vegetables cheaper than buying packaged?

Buying the cheapest format could save you a lot, but whether that's loose or packaged varies from one item to the next.

loose and packaged produce in a supermarket
Last updated: 06 June 2024


Checked for accuracy by our qualified fact-checkers and verifiers. Find out more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Need to know

  • Loose produce is most often cheaper than packaged produce – but not always
  • Using unit prices to find the cheapest format could save you more than $1900 a year
  • Imperfect fruit and veg is usually at least 20% cheaper than regular produce

There are many reasons for buying food that's sold loose rather than pre-packed. You can avoid plastic packaging, and you can choose the exact size, amount and quality of the produce you're after. But will you save at the checkout?

coles birds eye chillies loose

Bird's eye chilies at Coles priced at $34 per kg, compared with $95 per kg pre-packed.

Loose or packaged – which is cheaper?

We recorded and compared the supermarket unit prices of a range of different foods that are sold in both loose and pre-packed formats to see which was cheaper.

See how we surveyed for details. 

Loose produce cheaper 50% of the time

Significant savings can be had on buying loose chilies in particular, with bird's eye chilies at Coles priced at $34 per kg, compared with $95 per kg pre-packed. 

Jarlsberg cheese slices from the deli were also over $20 per kilo cheaper than their pre-packed version at both Coles and Woolies.

Bananas, green beans, sliced Champagne ham, mushrooms, salmon fillets and tomatoes were also cheaper in their loose format at both Coles and Woolworths.

Pre-packed produce cheaper 35% of the time

Some items were cheaper in the packaged format at both Coles and Woolworths: potatoes, onions, garlic, lemons and shortcut bacon.

In some cases, the savings on pre-packed produce were significant. For example, packaged potatoes were almost half the price of loose potatoes at both Coles and Woolworths. However, it's worth noting that often the exact variety of fruit or vegetable is not stated on packaged fruit and veg. From our instore investigation, it seemed that this may be a deliberate strategy to prevent customers from making direct comparisons between loose and packaged products. 

In these cases, we used our own judgment to determine whether a packaged item was 'similar enough' to its loose counterpart for it to be considered interchangeable by an average shopper.

We also noted a few cases at Woolworths where the pricing simply wasn't displayed for the loose produce, which meant we had to remove a few items from our shopping list. 

We didn't visit Coles in person as all the per kilo unit pricing for loose and packaged produce is clearly displayed online (see more on Woolworths' failure to provide this information below).

The same price or impossible to tell (15%)

A small percentage of products were either the same price loose or packed (13%), or the unit pricing didn't allow for comparisons (2%).

How much can you save on a grocery shop?

At each supermarket, we compared the price of a basket of items in their cheapest format (whether that be loose or packaged) with the same items in their most expensive format to see how much money you could save. (This is the same as comparing unit pricing.)

  • At Coles we saved $37.15 (21%) on 23 items by buying the format with the lowest unit price (a basket total of $143.77 compared with $180.92). 
  • At Woolies we saved $28.64 (18%) on 22 items ($128.54 compared with $157.18).
  • At Aldi we saved $8.66 (18%) on 11 items ($40.08 compared with $48.74).
coles produce in store

At Coles we saved $37.15 (21%) on a basket of 23 items.

These kinds of price differences can have a major impact on your household grocery costs over the long term. If the basket at Coles represented a weekly shop, for example, using unit prices to choose the cheapest format could save you more than $1900 a year.

More reasons to compare unit prices

Comparing loose and packaged formats of the same food items is just one way unit prices can help you save money. 

Unit price comparisons can also reveal big differences in value between national brands and smaller brands or supermarket-own brands, or large versus smaller pack sizes of the same product. 

Sure, you may pick a product with a higher unit price because you prefer how it tastes, because it looks fresher, because it's in a more convenient pack size, or because you want to reduce your use of packaging. But if you're simply keen on getting the best value for money, focusing on the unit price rather than selling price can really help.

im perfect produce range at coles

Imperfect products were on average at least 20% cheaper per kilo.

Can you save on imperfect fruit and veg?

Both major supermarkets sell packages of 'ugly' fruit and vegetables under the labels 'I'm Perfect' (Coles) and 'The Odd Bunch' (Woolworths). The idea is that shoppers can save money by buying imperfect fruits and vegetables, and farmers are able to sell produce that would otherwise go to waste. 

Our comparison of seven products across the standard and imperfect ranges found that imperfect products were on average 28% cheaper per kilo than the cheapest alternative format. On a product level, The Odd Bunch green apples offered the biggest saving per kilo ($2.40/kg versus $4.90/kg for loose or packaged Granny Smith apples).

The imperfect range also generally comes in larger pack sizes than the standard produce, which may mean it only represents good value if you need a large quantity

In many cases, though, the imperfect products don't state the variety of fruit or vegetable. This makes it hard to compare directly with the standard produce, but you can usually take a pretty good guess by looking at the produce inside the pack. The imperfect range also generally comes in larger pack sizes than standard produce, which may mean it only represents good value if you need a large quantity. 

It's also worth noting that while the imperfect range usually represents good value, you still need to compare unit pricing. We found the normal 1kg pack of carrots at Coles was actually cheaper (on special) than the I'm Perfect carrots, although, because they come in different-sized bags, you might not notice if you don't look at the cost per kilo.

Comparing prices online: Coles vs Woolies

If you've ever shopped at Woolworths Online, you may have noticed that it's harder to compare the cost of some popular loose and packaged fruits and vegetables to find the best value for money. This is because the supermarket giant displays the costs for some loose produce per piece, but the price for packaged produce is shown per kilo. 

For example, at the time of writing, the price of loose Granny Smith apples is displayed at 86c/each, and the 1kg package is $4.90/kg. Without knowing the weight of the individual apples (which isn't displayed) it's impossible to calculate which format is cheaper. 

Coles Online also displays an estimated price per piece of fruit/vegetable, but the cost per kilo is displayed in smaller font underneath with the approximate weight of the item so that customers can more easily compare prices.

We asked Woolworths about this. A spokesperson told us, "For some individual pieces of fruit and vegetables the price is calculated using the same per kilogram price offered in store and an average weight per piece. This is regularly checked to ensure seasonal or supply variations are reflected in the average." 

You can choose to take Woolworths at their word, but if you like to be able to compare prices yourself to get the best value (and save hundreds on your groceries over the course of a year), it's going to be difficult when shopping with Woolworths Online.

woman selecting vegetables in a supermarket

We used a combination of online and instore shopping and compared loose and packaged items.

How we surveyed

Our survey was carried out instore at Aldi and online at Coles. For Woolworths, we shopped online for some products and instore for others, as the pricing for some of the fresh produce in our survey didn't allow us to compare loose and packaged items online. We recorded the price of a range of products available in both loose and pre-packaged formats within each store. 

Where there was more than one packaged version of a product available, we chose the cheapest option (per kilo).

For each product, the two prices were recorded on the same day, and when on special we used the regular price where this was available. We then calculated the cost of the loose product if we were to buy the same weight as the packed format and compared the difference in price. 

We think it's fairer and easier for shoppers when packaged products display the cost per kilo as well as the price for the pack

In some cases we had to weigh the packaged item instore in order to compare unit pricing with loose produce, because the cost per kilo was not displayed. While it is possible to calculate the cheapest option this way, it's a lot of work for the average shopper – we think it's fairer and easier for shoppers when packaged products display the cost per kilo as well as the price for the pack. 

When comparing loose and packaged produce, we excluded The Odd Bunch/I'm Perfect products, except when that was the only packaged option available. We then compared the cost per kilo of the cheapest form of produce from the standard range with the cost per kilo of The Odd Bunch/I'm Perfect products.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.