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Naked greed and passive consumers

The Sunday Independent
August 19, 2007

ONE of the biggest expenditures for many families is the weekly grocery bill. The average household spends over €150 a week on food shopping and, of course, those with larger families can spend an awful lot more.

Yet there are ways to save significantly on your bills. The National Consumer Agency recently did a survey of grocery shopping in the three big supermarkets — Dunnes, Tesco and Superquinn — and found they all charged very similar prices for many staples. However, the folks at valueireland.com took the shopping list and visited Lidl and Aldi and found significant savings.

The brand names are, of course, different but many are actually manufactured by the same companies and the taste is often indistinguishable. The NCA found that the cost of their shopping basket varied from €121 at Tesco to €119 at Dunnes, but the basket came in at just under €89 at Lidl and Aldi. All of these only used a very small range of under 45 items. In comparison, the CSO uses some 320 items in its food basket when calculating food-shopping inflation.

However, even using the NCA’s really restrictive list, you can save over €30 a week by going to German discount stores. If you have a larger family, the savings can be as high as €50 a week or €2,600 a year.

For example, Brennan’s sliced pan was €1.35 in the main supermarkets and only €0.44 in Lidl and Aldi. Burger buns were €0.99, rather than €1.55. A six-pack of crisps was €1.49 in Aldi, compared with €1.79 in the bigger supermarkets. A two-litre bottle of coke was €0.79 in Lidl, compared with €1.81 in the other shops. Tea bags were €1.39, compared with €1.74.

Even milk was cheaper, at €0.69 in Lidl, compared with €0.90 elsewhere. Butter was €1.41, compared with €1.84. Yoghurts were €0.29 (€0.69 elsewhere). Cornflakes €1.39 (€2.24); Sausages €0.99 (€3.29) and toothpaste €0.99 (€3.99).

Why do more people not shop at these stores? Familiarity is one problem, but the NCA say that big supermarkets rely on the ongoing passivity of Irish consumers. A recent RGDATA (Retail, Grocery, Dairy and Allied Trades’ Association) summit was told that when 800 people were asked the price of five staple items — bread, milk, tea, butter and cereals — no one got all the prices right.

Try googling “food savings” and you will get a raft of suggestions. Some may make you feel like Scrooge, but others are well worth trying. One possibility is to make a weekly menu — and stick to it. Avoiding impulse buys and trips to your local “convenience” store can also save you serious dosh.

Most supermarkets are arranged so that you have to walk almost the entire area to pick up the staples, increasing the chance of getting you to impulse buy. Manufacturers also pay significant money to get products placed at eye level. Often the products on the top or bottom shelf will be cheaper. If you are the organised type, you can also use coupons and sign up for loyalty cards, which give you money off, although you will then be entered on a marketing database.

There is also the old idea of not shopping on an empty stomach. The main reason some supermarkets have the bakery at the entrance is that smell of fresh bread will make you hungry and prompt you to buy more. You can even think of leaving the credit card at home. If you have to hand over cash you are likely to spend less than using the never never land of the credit card.

Remember, too, to buy supermarket own brands as often as possible. This is usually the same as the branded products but far cheaper. It is also worth examining the price per kilo on many goods, as larger packs are often not the better value than many assume. This is particularly the case with beer.

Some people are wary of buying meat products in the discount supermarkets. However, their pork products are generally good. If you prefer Irish butchers for your other meats, it may be worth going online. Some people swear by O’Sullivan’s Butchers in Tralee, Co Kerry.

They offer an online next-day delivery service anywhere in Ireland (sulmeat.com). Delivery is free for orders over €100 so it may be worth stocking up for a month and freezing. The meat comes specially wrapped and remains chilled and all of the meat is guaranteed Irish.

Other ways to ramp up your savings is to give up that takeaway coffee on the way into work and to bring in a packed lunch. Do the two and you could save up to €2,000 a year. If you also give up cigarettes, you will save €7 a day or more than €2,500 in a year.

Your total savings this week are €2,600 on groceries, €2,000 on your takeaway coffee and lunches as well as €2,500 on cigarettes, giving a grand total of €7,100.

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