Easy ways to make savvier choices and save money at the supermarket

Easy ways to make savvier choices and save money at the supermarket
  • PublishedMay 10, 2024

Research shows many of us are being bamboozled by labels in shopping aisles.

Add in fatigue and a little time pressure, and doing ‘the shop’ can easily become a frustrating activity.

We spoke to experts about ways to help dodge the confusion — and reduce your spend.

Avoid food shopping on ‘autopilot’ 

Choice’s Liam Kennedy says taking a little extra time can make a big difference.

“If you want to save money in the supermarket” the spokesman for the consumer advocacy group says to avoid “shopping on autopilot” as a “first priority”.

It’s an understandable trap and something we’re all guilty of, usually to save time, he says.

“We go into the shops, and we just go straight for our favourite products from the brands we always buy from, in the sizes we always buy, then to the check out, and then leave straight away.”

Mr Kennedy says breaking from your normal pattern and comparing prices, pack sizes, brands and unit prices to your favourite or usual products will allow you to “find better value for money”.

He advises not to write off home-brand products and ‘imperfect’ or ‘odd bunch’ fruit and vegetables.

“We’ve seen home-brand products outperform the flagship manufacturer brand labels in quite a few areas,” he says, and sometimes they’re less than half the price.

A 2022 comparison, by Choice, of major supermarkets found imperfect fruit and veg packs were on average 37 per cent cheaper per kilo than the cheapest alternative, Mr Kennedy says.

“With the caveat that they do come in larger amounts,” he says, “so think about how much you’re going to use.”

How to read the labels for the best deal

Promotional tags can be misleading, and even the real discounts might not give you the best deal. So what do you look for instead?

A coconut water product on the supermarket shelf at Woolworth with a "prices dropped" tag, priced at $4.
Choice found price tags such as the one on this coconut water, which has consistently been $4 for almost five years, can cause confusion.(Supplied: Choice)

Mr Kennedy says to properly compare product prices, you need to look “below the headline price” on the tags to the “small prices per 100 grams or millilitres” (the unit price).

“What we tend to find is, obviously, you’re getting better value for money across different sizes and products” and “bigger products tend to offer better value for money”.

A good example is honey, where “you can be paying 40 per cent more per 100 grams for that honey when you buy it in the small bottles compared to the biggest jars”.

Marketing expert Peter Popkowski-Leszczyc agrees.

He says paying attention to the unit price helps us be wary of items that are not always as they appear. For example, the size of packaging when it comes to things like cereal.

“Sometimes the boxes look quite large but they’re often not all the way filled.”

Notice supermarket layout and product placement 

Professor Popkowski-Leszczyc says there’s been quite a bit of research on product placement in supermarkets and, unsurprisingly, things at eye level get the most of attention.

A woman in a grocery isle of fruit and vegetables
Peter Popkowski-Leszczyc says shoppers should stop and consider what they’re willing to pay. (ABC News: Jonathon Daly)

That’s where you’ll often find the premium brands, he says, and adds that the end-of-aisle displays filled with ‘sale’ products are another lucrative position.

“Something can be on sale, but how good of a deal is it?”

Items on end-of-aisle displays are not surrounded by competing products and brands, so it’s harder to compare.

Check online

Professor Popkowski-Leszczyc says online shopping makes comparing products within your budget easy, and it’s especially worthwhile for items that are more costly.

But he warns to factor in any additional costs — postage being the most common.


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