There's arguably never been as much competition in the supermarket sector as there is right now. As our spending power has diminished, many of us have switched supermarket to the likes of Aldi and Lidl, enticed by the promise of more for less.
Aldi, in particular, certainly appears to have upped its game to meet this new demand. A six-fold increase in profits, while Tesco profits fall for the first time in 18 years, plus Which's vote as Supermarket of the Year suggest it are getting it right.
But is it cheaper to shop at Aldi than Tesco? And with Waitrose pledging to match Tesco prices on branded goods, is it also a contender?
I bought the same basket of goods over three successive weekends at the three different supermarkets to compare both price and taste.
The goods I selected were aimed at feeding my family of four, which means there is an emphasis on fresh food, particularly fruit and vegetables. In each case the cheapest product available was chosen, although that may not have been part of the store's discount range.
Cherry tomatoes (300g)*
Fresh fruit juice (one litre)
Cheddar cheese (250g)
Milk (four pints)
Yogurt (individual 180g)
Butter (500g unsalted)
Eggs (six free range)
Ham (five slices)*
Chicken slices (eight slices)
Chicken breast fillets (two free range)
Beef mince (500g)
Fish fingers (10)
Baked beans (400g tin)
Bread (wholemeal loaf)
Milk Chocolate Digestives (400g)*
Wheat cereal (750g)*
*Exact comparison not available across three supermarkets so price has been pro-rata'd in one case
As you can see, Aldi is the winner when it comes to cost, with Waitrose a very distant third. But that's not the full story.
Thing is, I couldn't actually complete a full weekly shop at Aldi. It didn't stock products such as dishwasher salt and hummus that we would regularly buy. There was also a real lack of fresh meat and fish options, which is certainly not the case at Tesco or Waitrose.
False economies in a recession
In terms of taste, the Ward family say Aldi came last, with Tesco in second and Waitrose top. Aldi's grapes were watery, the scampi was made from strange pink globules that bore little relation to seafood, the ham and chicken slices were tasteless and slimy, and the beef mince was fatty.
Having said that, the rest of the food was fine, with the general consensus that it was no worse than Tesco's. But there is definitely a very discernible difference in quality between Aldi and Waitrose. It arguably isn't as great as the 1.4 ratio in price, but personally I wouldn't ever do all my shopping at Aldi. It's great for bulk buying store cupboard items and other non-fresh products, but its fresh lines, particularly meat and fish, aren't strong enough yet. However, many people are obviously converted.
I'd like to address one final area, although I appreciate when money's tight it's something you might not consider, and that's Fairtrade and free range food. It never ceases to amaze me how Tesco, in particular, has so little fresh Fairtrade and free range produce available. And that's a major reason why I would never do my entire weekly shop there.
In fact, apart from its multi-buy deals and alcohol discounts it's difficult to see where Tesco really scores these days.
Following this (very non-scientific) experiment, my ideal combination is bulk buying non-fresh food every few weeks at Aldi and buying fresh each week at either Sainsbury's (which does better on the Fairtrade/free range front) and Waitrose. But if Aldi does step it up in the fresh section, it will be a serious contender.
Where do you buy your food shopping? Do you shop around or stick to one supermarket? Let us know in the Comments section below.
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