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8 things you should know about budget groceries

Find out where the cheapest groceries are stocked, what supermarkets call their ranges and more

Budget groceries can be a great way to try to manage the rising cost of supermarket shopping.  

Officially inflation overall is at 9% and take-home food inflation is running at 7%, according to market analysts Kantar. But behind the headline figures, some groceries are rising in price faster than others. 

One good way of keeping your grocery bill down is to buy own-label budget food and drink. But how much do you really know about budget groceries? 

Which? has dug deep by crunching the prices and cutting through the spin to reveal everything you need to know.

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1. Not all own-label is the same

All the UK’s major supermarkets have own-label groceries. 

Unlike the big brands, such as Kellogg’s and Coca-Cola, these own-label groceries are made for and branded by the supermarket. And these own-label grocery ranges are big business – from 606 own-label products at Ocado through to more than 8,000 at Asda. 

All the major UK supermarkets have more than one tier – or level – of own-brand groceries. These tiers are usually differentiated by price and can be broadly categorised into budget, standard and premium. 

All the eight supermarkets we asked have three tiers, except for Ocado which has two. But it’s worth remembering that even for those with three main tiers, the cheapest range could still be more directly comparable with another supermarket’s standard or even premium range. 

2. Budget ranges can go by many names

If you want to find the budget own-label groceries, it’s worth knowing they aren’t always labelled as ‘value’ or ‘budget’. 

For example, there are Everyday Essentials at Aldi and Just Essentials at Asda, which seem straightforward enough. But at Sainsbury’s, for example, the budget range fruit and veg comes under the name ‘Greengrocer’, and its meat, fish and poultry budget range is called ‘J. James’. 

Here are some examples of what the cheapest own-label ranges are called at the different supermarkets: 

  • Aldi: Everyday Essentials
  • Asda: Just Essentials (also Smart Price, which is slowly being phased out)
  • Lidl: Simply 
  • Morrisons: Morrisons Savers, Woodheads Brothers, International Seafood Company, Chippindales, Wonky, Stephensons Bakery, Greenside Deli
  • Ocado: Ocado own range
  • Sainsbury’s: Greengrocer for fruit and veg; J. James in meat, fish and poultry; Mary Ann’s in dairy; Hubbard’s in long-life products; and the Imperfectly Tasty range, which offers ‘wonky’ fruit and veg.
  • Tesco: Exclusively at Tesco – Hearty Food Co., HW Nevill’s, The Grower’s Harvest, Stockwell & Co., Ms Molly’s, Butcher’s Choice, Creamfields, Eastman’s, Suntrail Farms, Rosedene Farms, Willow Farms, Woodside Farms, Redmere Farms, Nightingale Farms, Boswell Farms, Bay Fishmongers
  • Waitrose: Essential Waitrose & Partners

3. Budget groceries may not be stocked near you...

The current cost of living crisis has put a sharp focus on the availability of budget groceries. 

We asked seven major in-store UK supermarkets about how widely they stock their budget ranges. Five confirmed they stock at least some of their budget range groceries in all food stores – these were Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, and Waitrose. 

Of the remaining two supermarkets, Aldi stocks budget own-label groceries in all its major stores but not its Aldi Locals or Aldi Shop & Go, while Tesco declined to answer our question. 

Which? believes supermarkets should make their budget ranges available in all food stores to help people navigate the cost-of-living squeeze.

4. ... or are likely to sell out

And even if your local store does stock the ranges they could sell out, given the increased demand.

We found budget own-label groceries were out of stock on three times as many days from the start of December 2021 to February 2022, compared to the same period two years previously.  

Whether those budget items are in stock, at an easily accessible store at the right time, will play a big part in making those lowest prices available to those who need them. 

Which? believes supermarkets should ensure that budget ranges are readily available across their stores so consumers are not forced to pay over the odds for everyday items.

5. Pricing is often pretty consistent...

We know budget lines have so far been affected by inflation the least, going up just 0.2% in two years in our latest research. Meanwhile, own-label standard ranges went up 2.84% and premium ranges rose by 3.15%.

When we compared the prices of some essentials, using their average price in April 2022, we found these figures show that pricing is pretty consistent across the supermarkets for many own-label budget items. 

For example: 

  • A sliced loaf of wholemeal bread 800g was 36p. 
  • A 420g tin of baked beans in tomato sauce was either 21p or 22p.
  • 10 fish fingers were 69p.
  • A 1kg bag of oats was 75p.
  • A 500g bag of spaghetti was 20p or 21p.
  • A bag of six gala apples was 95p.
  • A 250g bag of cherry tomatoes was 48p or 49p.

These prices are for all the supermarkets whose items were listed during April 2022 and include discounts but not multibuys. They don’t include any loyalty scheme discounts. 

6. ... but sometimes there are big differences 

While we found supermarkets priced their own-label budget items keenly, there were some budget items that had more significant price differences: 

  • Macaroni cheese 300g: we found a difference of 70p between Asda, the cheapest at £1.19 and Tesco, the most expensive at £1.89.
  • Cooked ham 400g: we found a difference of 44p between Asda, the cheapest at £1.59, and Sainsbury’s, the most expensive at £2.03.
Browsing ice cream in supermarket

7. Quality may vary

Price is important but it might not be the only issue you care about. The quality, standards and provenance of different supermarkets’ own-label ranges vary. 

For example, whether the meat is British, how it is reared and which certifications are used will be different at different supermarkets. It’s good advice to check these nuances if there are particular issues you feel strongly about. 

shopping basket

8. 'Budget' might not always mean 'cheapest'

It’s worth remembering that the very cheapest groceries may not even officially be in own-label budget ranges at all. 

Price-matching schemes and loyalty discounts may actually mean the cheapest groceries are from other own-label ranges or even sometimes big brands. 

This article has been updated since first being published to include Lidl 's response that it does sell budget own label groceries in all stores