With a deepening cost of living crisis and people everywhere struggling with putting food on the table after paying unprecedented price hikes on their household bills, the availability of supermarket own budget ranges has never been more important. It has been the subject of much debate with poverty campaigner Jack Monroe, who has stressed how reliable on ‘white label’ items many hard-up people, including struggling families, are in order to survive.
I was sent to two very different stores to check out and compare their budget ranges – well-known for it’s luxury and expensive food Marks and Spencer’s and low-cost supermarket Morrisons. I wanted to see just how different the cost would be between the high end store and one of the lowest and to see if there were any surprises along the way.
As the automatic doors swished open to reveal M&S foodhall in Prestwich, I felt an inner warmth at the welcoming, tranquil surroundings of what must be arguably one of the most pleasant food shopping experiences in the UK. As I walked past pretty spring flowers and took in the aisles of tempting looking produce, I could literally feel the premium quality of the items on offer.
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I may only have had a budget for the budget range, but surely this wouldn’t be just any budget range – it would be Marks and Spencer’s budget range. But, after circling the aisles for the Simply range that I remembered from my past shopping expeditions, I was left confused as to why I couldn’t find one item with the branding.
Unable to find someone on the shop floor to ask – is it just me or is there never anyone on the shop floor of any shop, ever? I was forced to ask a woman on the tills, who had to call for someone else because she couldn’t leave the tills, but that person never arrived so she then had to hurriedly leave the tills…. blimey! but this wasn’t just frustrating customer service, it was Marks and Spencer’s frustrating customer service.
Anyhow, she explained to me that green signs with ‘Remarksable Value’ printed on them indicated their lowest everyday prices and were scattered around the store. She pointed in the general direction of some, before hurrying back to her station. When I eventually found a man stacking the fridges, I asked him what had happened to the Simply range and I was told it was now obsolete.
So, basket in hand, I set off on a Remarksable hunt around the store. What struck me is how infrequently I saw the green labels, which due to their color did not stand out anyway. Still, exist they did, peppering the store on various products including staples like cornflakes, £1, baked beans, 35p, tinned soup, £1 per tin for lots of different flavours, prickly pear, £1.05, long grain rice, 90p, chopped tomatoes, 45p, 2 pints of semi skimmed milk, 95p, potatoes, 73p, and free range eggs £2.60.
Fittingly the green value signs were fairly abundant on the greengrocer section – with onions, 90p, carrots, 35p, mushrooms, 95p, green beans £1.75 and a cucumber, 43p. Meat falling under the ‘remarksable’ tag were chicken breast fillets at £2.90 and 5 per cent lean steak mince at £3.00. Treats, alcohol and fizzy drinks were all notably green label free except fizzy water at 55p.
At the till my 21 items came to £25.01, including a 0.15 bag for life. Not a bad price for a number of fridge and food cupboard stalwarts. But I wasn’t blown away. The choice had been limited and the random ticketing on various, miscellaneous items failed to compare with a more structured budget range.
Heading over to Morrisons in Whitefield, I first felt like the most ‘remarksable’ thing of the day happened when I walked in and immediately saw someone on the shop floor. Sure, she was walking away from me and I had to yell “excuse me” and ask her if she worked there, but she was friendly and helpful, informing me their budget range was called Savers and taking me over to an isolate that homed a shelf adequately stocked with various items – including tea, coffee, Jaffa cakes, household items such as laundry and cleaning products.
I was only comparing the same products as Marks and Spencer’s, so I set out to find the twin counterparts. First up, they too had a budget bottled water and at 17p it was 38p cheaper than the M&S version. Savers tuna was 59p – a whole 46p cheaper than M&S. Savers long rice was 45p compared to 90p – exactly half the cost. Savers baked beans were 21p compared to 35p and Savers cereal was 74p while chopped tomatoes were 28p compared to 45p.
After that I was all out of luck as Morrisons had no Savers meat items, or Savers milk nor did they have any Savers fresh fruit and vegetables. Instead I picked up all the missing items at the lowest full price in store – with the end cost coming in at £16.74.
So, predictably even shopping purely budget at Marks and Spencer’s was still £8.27 more than at Morrisons where I had even had to mix some full price items to get the same shop. I had hoped for some surprises – where a bit of M&S luxury worked out cheaper somewhere – but, sadly it didn’t. However, while the M&S budget prices were still more expensive than Morrisons, a positive observation was that fruit and veg, plus red and white meat had all featured in the lower price range.
Morrisons, in my opinion, could have done with applying the Savers price tag to some fresh produce and meat to help struggling customers buy cheap but still have a healthy and balanced diet. Although there were more Savers on offer – Fruit, veg, dairy and meat was sadly lacking and most of the Savers range came in a tin.
On the whole though I was underwhelmed in both stores and thought that during a cost of living crisis, a cheaper end supermarket could offer a more vast and varied range of white label items and M&S would have done well not to lose their own version with the Simply range of yester-year.
An altogether ‘unremarkable’ experience.
Beef mince £3
Chopped tomatoes £0.45
Free range eggs £2.60
Green Beans £1.75
Baked beans £0.35
2 pints of milk £0.95
Carrot bag £0.35
Chicken £3.19 (none saver)
Beef mince £3.09 (none Saver)
Chopped tomatoes £0..28
free range eggs £0.50
Green beans £1.25
Baked beans £0.21
2 pints of milk £0
Potatoes £0.99 (none saver)
Carrot bag £0.39