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Budget vs premium food: how to save money

When can you save on your shop by trading down?
Woman searching in supermarket shelves

We reveal the real differences between budget, premium and standard ranges

Which? reveals how to trade up and trade down tactically – based on our latest analysis of budget, standard and premium supermarket food.

With so much choice on supermarket shelves it’s hard to know when it’s worth spending that bit extra to trade up to a premium range and when you can save money by trading down to budget or standard ranges – without compromising too much on taste or quality.

We’ve analysed a range of own-brand products from all the main UK supermarkets to uncover the real differences between budget, premium and standard ranges. 

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Savvy food shopping 

To uncover the real differences between supermarket food ranges we considered price, ingredients, provenance, nutritional content and animal welfare.

We found that premium cheddar is matured for longer than standard and budget versions, giving it more texture. But, if you’re melting it on toast or in a sauce is it really worth the extra cost? Our blind taste testers didn’t think so – most preferred the standard range cheddar.

In the case of strawberry yoghurt, we found that budget versions contain less fruit and more added sugar compared to standard and premium ones. But sometimes budget versions don’t save you as much money as you might expect. The difference between budget and standard baked beans in some supermarkets is as little as 8p a tin. And budget butter is only 1-2p cheaper per pack than standard butter.

Budget vs premium food

In the case of store cupboard essentials and fruit and veg, it’s worth trying the budget range or sticking to standard. In a blind taste test of budget, standard and premium spaghetti most people preferred the standard range, criticising the premium spaghetti for being too hard. And our tasters didn’t have a strong preference for premium frozen peas over the standard frozen peas.

The biggest difference we saw between the ranges was in the meat aisle. Premium range meat (we looked at beef mince, chicken, bacon and sausages) tends to come from animals with higher welfare standards – for example free range – and from a specific named region. Premium versions also contain more meat (in sausages) and no added water (in bacon).

This isn’t necessarily the case with fish. For example – fresh farmed salmon from Sainsbury’s Basics, standard and Taste the Difference ranges is all RSPCA Freedom Food approved.

Most of the time supermarket standard ranges offer the best compromise between price and quality. But, by making savvy choices on where you trade down you can save money – allowing you to trade up on the foods you love and to reflect issues that are important to you such as provenance and animal welfare.

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