Are you bamboozled by grocery bargains?

Jim Sweasey, 64, of Hilsea, who objects to how supermarkets are charging for fruit. Picture: Malcolm Wells (122169-3610)
Jim Sweasey, 64, of Hilsea, who objects to how supermarkets are charging for fruit. Picture: Malcolm Wells (122169-3610)
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Last week’s Streetwise focused on how you can avoid paying more than you need to for supermarket fruit and veg.

So when regular Streetwise reader Jim Sweasey popped into his local Tesco to buy some apples, he was astonished to find the store had switched to pricing them up individually.

Jim had noticed the Cosham store had stopped selling them by the kilo or pound, and wondered whether he might be paying more than necessary.

‘Each apple is a different weight,’ he says, ‘so how can we compare their prices with other retailers?

‘I asked a supervisor and member of staff at the store why this was happening, and they advised me it was head office policy.’

But apples are not the only fruit. Oranges, pears, peaches, and even bananas have increasingly come in for similar supermarket smoke-and-mirror deals, duping customers into believing they’re getting better choice and value than they actually are.

Streetwise research confirms many of the most confusing examples of unit pricing involve fruit and vegetables.

They include Morrisons pre-packed red onions at £1.35 for three or 45p each, next to loose onions priced at 95p a kilo; a seven pack of mini bananas priced at 99p, individually-priced bananas at 14p, but right next to loose ones on sale at 68p a kilo.

Lightspeed Research, an international polling company, found that when presented with competing mixed measure offers, as few as 34 per cent of consumers correctly identified a bargain.

Armed with this information Streetwise set out to discover whether our supermarket individual and multiple special offers were all they were cracked up to be, or simply served to pump up profits.

Tesco Crasswell Street, Commercial Road, Portsmouth revealed some rich pickings.

Bargain individual tins of tuna were priced at 60p each, but go for the ‘better value’ range and a four-tin pack would set you back £3.25.

A standard saver 500 ml bottle of antibacterial hand wash was priced at 55p, but the same size refill pack without the dispenser is 70p, more than 27 per cent dearer.

Individual bottles of squash were priced at £1.35, or why not go for the special offer of two for £2.75?

Some bargain offers at Sainsburys Fareham were equally misleading or obtuse.

How about 500 ml of brandy sauce for 93p, or two for £3? Sweet-toothed shoppers might also be tempted to try the offer of crème eggs – two boxes of six for £4.50 or, just along the shelf, three individual eggs for £1.

At Asda Gosport, you’d need to be very sharp at maths to work out the best value for your morning orange juice.

A one-litre carton was priced at £1.76, or two for £3, but a 1.5 litre carton was priced at £2.72. One litre is therefore £1.50 a litre and the 1.5 litre carton £1.81 a litre – a mind-boggling mental arithmetic challenge.

But strictly for those with aspirations of taking a degree in applied maths, why not try our great local supermarket breakfast price challenge and work out which of these offers were cheapest?

n Consumer watchdog Which? reckons supermarkets are off their trolley if savvy shoppers like Jim Sweasey have no cause for concern about being taken in.

A spokesperson says: ‘We’re calling on supermarkets to make their pricing clearer. We want them to show the price by weight, volume, or unit, so shoppers can compare what they are buying. We’re also putting pressure on them to sort out special offers, so they are just that – special.’