Are you paying too much for sprouts?

Christmas shoppers could find themselves paying up to 1000% more for their sprouts this December because of confusing prices at UK supermarkets.

Brussels SproutDepending on which of the big stores you visit this December will dictate whether you either pay £1 or £11 for a kilo of Brussels.

As part of Loughborough University’s Christmas and New Year campaign, which aims to alleviate seasonal stress and promote wellbeing, economist Dr Jon Seaton looked at the festive food favourite and the cheapest places to buy them.

He found that the prices among the eight biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsburys, Morrisons, ASDA, Waitrose, Ocado, Iceland and Lidl – differed by 1000%.

The true prices were disguised in such a way that all the varieties were packaged up in £1 to £1.99 packs.

So, unless shoppers went to the trouble of comparing the cost of a kilo, typically in the smaller print, they would be unaware of how much or how little they were paying.

“All of the prices for packs of sprouts fall within £1 and £1.99, at all of the supermarkets,” said Dr Seaton, a Reader in business economics.

“But the weights will differ drastically – from 100g up to 1kg – which means so does the price per kilo.”

No. of products Lowest price per kilo Highest price per kilo Lowest price per pack Highest price per pack
Tesco 6 £1.50 £5 £1 £1.75
Sainsburys 7 £2 £5 £1 £1.5
Morrisons 4 £1.50 £5 £0.82 £1.8
ASDA 2 £1.30 £4 £0.65 £1
Waitrose 6 £2 £8.33 £1 £1.99
Ocado 8 £1.50 £11 £1.10 £1.99
Iceland 1 £1 £1 £0.75 £0.75
Lidl 3 £1.30 £1.30 £0.65 £1.29

Taken from mysupermarket.com on December 6, 2017

Dr Seaton added that he found, in one store: loose sprouts, stem sprouts, red sprouts, large packs, trimmed, farm sprouts, sprout tops, baby sprouts, as well as other varieties with added ingredients such as bacon, or butter.

“As you walk the aisles, you the shopper, with all the other items also on your mind, will simply pick up what you guess to be the cheapest, as its £1 plus something and put it in your trolley.

“A single supermarket can have up to eight kinds of sprout packs, and the pricing is done in such a way that you can’t easily compare each pack, for example stem or tree sprouts there is no price per kilo of the sprouts, they are normally sold as a whole vegetable.

“In some cases, the price per kilo is shown on the shelves – but, it’s in a much smaller font and because people are in a hurry and see a particular price highlighted, they assume they’re getting the best deal as it’s a pound something.

“A word of warning, highlighted prices are sometimes the most expensive.”

Brussels sprouts

The same method for clouding the comparative cost of very similar items extends through the supermarkets, said Dr Seaton.

Here are a few tips to help you navigate the ‘deals’:

  • Supermarkets will have great offers and prices on the top sellers over Christmas, so great deals on turkeys, seasonal vegetables and alcohol – but they are magically levitating prices on the other everyday products you habitually pick up on the way round the aisles
  • Beware of the increasing array of expensive ‘healthy alternatives’ – generally, most food is healthy in moderation – so don’t be sucked in by gimmicks.
  • Draw up a list – don’t buy just anything, buy what you want and discuss this soberly with your nearest and dearest – look them up online and compare retailers.
  • Check prices on bulk-buys – sometimes the retailers can make the larger sizes much more expensive as they know you will automatically go for them.
  • Be mindful that packaged fresh fruit or veg might not be cheaper – it’s very convenient and seems helpful but is often more expensive than loose.
  • A hungry shopper buys more – the longer you shop the more you buy and if you get a ‘great deal’ you often reward yourself with a treat, especially at the end of the trip.
  • The longer you wait until you shop for your Christmas dinner items the more chance you have of getting deals – by Christmas Eve store managers know it’s their last opportunity to sell stuff, like turkeys, which will useless by the end of the day. This is big gamble though, sometimes they are sold out!
  • Some Brussels sprouts prices are dropping towards Christmas, but retailers will not call these price cuts or offers, sometimes they silently and superstitiously drop the price per kilo by simply increasing pack size. Keep a ‘buy if price/price per kilo is below’ list of your favourite Xmas goodies.

Loughborough University’s Christmas and New Year health and wellbeing campaign is aimed at using the knowledge and experience of academics and professionals to give advice about physical and mental wellness over the festive season and into next year.

Follow the latest campaign content by searching for the #LboroExperts hashtag on Twitter, or on our Facebook page, Snapchat account and YouTube channel.

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