Splashed across the Aldi website at the moment is the headline “Ireland’s Best Value Discounter”, while available on many of the Lidl special offer pages is a banner that advertises that discounter as “Ireland’s Cheapest Supermarket”.
And both are basing their claims on the July 2009 National Consumer Agency grocery survey.
One could initially say that this further highlights the uselessness of the NCA grocery surveys in that both chains are able to make broadly similar claims (on the face of it) based on the outcome of the same survey.
It also highlights how ridiculous the NCA were to not include these chains in their grocery surveys from the very beginning – it wasn’t until ValueIreland.com carried out the NCA survey in both Aldi and Lidl that both stores were included back in 2008/2007.
But who is cheapest?
Well, the title of “Ireland’s Best Value Discounter” does actually go to Aldi, when comparing Aldi and Lidl only, and only when comparing “own brand results” rather than “branded results”.
But that’s when comparing a basket of 52 items “own brand” items purchased in both stores – all other stores (Tesco, Dunnes, Superquinn etc) are not part of this particular survey (table 2).
The title claimed by Lidl as “Ireland’s Cheapest Supermarket” is sort of incorrect as it only refers to that the part of the survey where “own brand” items are purchased rather than any “branded”. It should really read “Ireland’s Cheapest Supermarket for Own Brand Items”
Technically, it should really read, “Ireland’s Cheapest Supermarket for Own Brand Items in a basked of 19 items, rather than 52”.
With me still?
If you buy 20 listed “own brand” items in Lidl, they are cheaper than all other stores. However, if you buy a basket of 52 “own brand” items in Aldi, they’re cheaper than all other stores – including Lidl.
So that probably means that the “Ireland’s Best Value Discounter” claim made by Aldi is also incorrect – since if you bought 20 items instead of 52, then Lidl would be cheaper.
Confused – you should be, and that’s exactly what supermarkets want – confused consumers. This is why the National Consumer Agency also had to give up on their plans for their “grocery price comparison” website (which I’ll be coming back to soon).
Its unfortunate then that in a grocery market where the chains depend on consumer confusion, the organisation that is supposed to help consumers by reducing that confusion are only serving to increase it with their useless grocery surveys.
Edit 22/03 - Since I originally drafted this article, Conor Popes Pricewatch column in The Irish Times has touched on this topic, Lack of price information costing consumers a packet. In his article, he refers to the NCA grocery price surveys, and the fact that it seems like we thankfully won’t see any more of them:
Speaking at a recent media briefing to promote the amalgamation of the Financial Regulator’s information and education functions within the NCA, the agency’s chief executive Ann Fitzgerald confirmed that the general surveys had been knocked on the head. She expressed disappointment that they were being abandoned but said that obstacles being put in the way of the agency by retailers had made them next to impossible to carry out.
Edit 23/03 - Following on from the Pricewatch article above, CheapEats.ie have followed up also with their article, Pricewatch: The cheapest supermarket?.
Check out their discussion in answer to the question – In the absence of in-depth price comparisons, which supermarkets do you find the cheapest?