Low cost food ranges are not available to lower income households relying on small supermarkets, Which? research reveals, as the consumer champion urges supermarkets to stock healthy budget foods in convenience stores.
Despite millions of people all over the country struggling with food inflation at its highest in 45 years, the consumer champion has found that people are potentially being unjustly penalised during the cost of living crisis because big retailers are failing to stock essential items from their value ranges in convenience stores.
Supermarket basic ranges provide a vital cheaper option to low income households and budgeting families who may not be able to afford more expensive branded or premium foods. However, Which? has found that essential budget range items are hardly ever stocked in smaller stores – even though two thirds (66%) of those on £21,000 or less shop in a convenience store at least once a week. This means that people who have low mobility or no access to public or private transport to reach a larger supermarket are potentially being forced to buy more expensive foods or go without.
In a mystery shop of 123 Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores, Which? sent researchers to check the availability of a list of around 29 everyday budget items, including dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, minced meat and tinned fish.
On average, the biggest supermarket stores had 87 per cent of the products Which? was looking for, or an equivalent product in the same range. Across all four big brands (Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s), budget range minced meat, tuna and ketchup had the worst stock on average despite the likelihood that other versions of these products would be much more expensive.
However, in small Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Morrisons Daily convenience stores, the budget line items on Which?’s list were available less than 1 per cent of the time. Of the 35 small stores from these three chains visited across the country by Which?’s mystery shoppers, 30 did not have in stock any of the budget range items on the list at all. The remaining five stores only stocked one budget range item from the list each.
By not adequately stocking budget range necessities in their small stores, supermarkets are leaving consumers who only have access to smaller stores less able to access affordable, healthy food. Worryingly, these people are more likely to be living on lower incomes, meaning they are less able to afford the higher priced items offered in small stores.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:
“At a time when millions of people are struggling to put food on the table, it’s shocking that budget range foods are not available to people who can’t get to a large supermarket. Everyone should have access to affordable nutritious food no matter where they live.
Which? is now calling on supermarket bosses to ensure budget ranges that support a healthy diet are available in convenience stores, especially in areas where people are struggling the most. They must also make it easier for all customers to work out which items offer the best value for money by making sure their pricing is clear and easily comparable.
Which? is now calling on supermarket bosses to address the disparity between convenience stores and their larger supermarket counterparts so that everyone around the country, especially in places identified as being high priority, is able to access nutritious budget range food at a store near them.
As part of its Affordable Food For All campaign, Which? is also calling for all supermarkets to make pricing and offers more transparent so that people can easily work out which products offer the best value.