According to a study, consumers have seen the price of hundreds of popular grocery items increase by more than 20% over the past two years, alongside a decline in supermarket discounts and budget ranges.
Who? found that the price of 265 groceries rose by more than a fifth as the availability of supermarket discounts and budget ranges – which consumers increasingly rely on – fell.
The watchdog analyzed the prices of more than 21,000 groceries over two years, comparing their average prices at eight major supermarkets between the start of December 2021 and the end of February 2022 with the same period two years before.
Across 20 grocery categories, soft drinks experienced the largest average price increase at 5.9%, followed by butters and spreads (4.9%), energy drinks (4.8%) and milk (4.6%).
Grocery items with the lowest inflation included chocolate (1.4%), fresh fruit (1.6%), cookies (1.8%) and vegetables (1.9%).
The study also found that across different supermarkets there were fewer discounts, limited availability of own-brand economy ranges and products that decreased in size but remained at the same price over the same period.
The number of promotions fell in each of the 20 categories studied by the watchdog, including the number of discounts on bottled water down 14.7% and on vegetables down 11%.
Meanwhile, the size of savings from promotions that still took place was also reduced in three-quarters of the categories. This was most pronounced for butters and spreads, where the size of savings fell by 3.6% over the two years, followed by vegetables (3.5%) and crisps (2.9%) .
Examples of “shrinkage” – reducing the size of the product while retaining the original price – include Nescafé Azera Americano decaffeinated instant coffee shrinking from 100g to 90g and Walkers Classic Variety crisps shrinking from 24 bags in a multipack of 22 bags.
The Which? also revealed that own-brand budget ranges – which saw the lowest level of inflation at just 0.2% compared to 3.2% for high-end own-brand ranges – have become less available.
According to the study, low-budget private label items were unavailable three times as many days in the last three-month period as they were two years earlier.
Among the 20 product categories, own brand cheese was the most out of stock at 17 days in 2022 compared to six days in 2019.
Who? asks supermarkets and manufacturers to provide clear unit prices to allow consumers to easily compare and choose the most advantageous items, such as cost per 100g or 100ml, and to ensure that budget items are easily available.
Sue Davies, which one? head of food policy and consumer rights, said: “Our research reveals that skyrocketing prices are exacerbated by practices such as the contraction and limited availability of the most important budget ranges – and these factors combine to put enormous pressure on household purchasing budgets.
“During an unrelenting cost of living crisis, consumers should be able to easily choose the product that’s right for them without worrying about price drops or local store budget limitations.”
A Tesco spokesman said: ‘We are committed to delivering great value to our customers, whether that means offering ‘everyday low prices’ on 1,600 basic products, price matching of around 650 basic products at Aldi prices or to offer exclusive offers and rewards through thousands of Clubcard prices. ”
British Retail Consortium food and sustainability director Andrew Opie said: “Rising inflation is an ongoing concern for consumers and retailers. The world price of many food products has reached record highs in recent months, driving up prices for consumers. Other price pressures include rising energy, transportation and labor costs, all of which are exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine.
“Retailers will continue to do everything possible to keep prices low and deliver value to their customers by limiting price increases and expanding their value ranges.”