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How do you use unit pricing in supermarkets?

We know that many shoppers use unit prices to compare the value of food and other grocery products in supermarkets. However, we know very little about the types of comparisons for which shoppers use unit prices. Such information would help the on-going campaign for better and more unit pricing.


So, I’m very interested to know how you use unit pricing to make value comparisons in supermarkets.

Large supermarkets provide unit prices for products sold:
• loose from bulk (for example fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, and cheese - usually priced per kg),
• in variable weight packs (for example transparent packs of meat, fish and cheese– the unit price in $/kg is on the label)
• in constant measure packs (for example cans of vegetables, cartons of breakfast cereal, packets of frozen fish, and bags of fresh fruit and vegetables – the unit price is on the shelf label),
therefore, shoppers can now use unit prices for several types of value comparisons in large supermarkets.

How often do you use each of the following five possible types of comparison?

TYPE 1. Products sold packaged and loose from bulk, for example cheese/cooked meats/nuts/fruit and vegetables.

  • frequently
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

0 voters

TYPE 2. Different pack sizes of the same brand of a product, for example one brand of breakfast cereal. [poll max=20 name=t2]

  • frequently
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never
    [/poll]

TYPE 3. Different brands and pack sizes of a product, for example different pasta brands and pack sizes. [poll max=20 name=t3]

  • frequently
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never
    [/poll]

TYPE 4. Regular prices and temporary special offers, for example discounts/multi-buys/“free” extra quantity.

  • frequently
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

0 voters

TYPE 5. Products sold in simple and complex packaging, for example drink powder loose in a pack or in a pack containing sachets.

  • frequently
  • sometimes
  • rarely
  • never

0 voters

And, if you use unit prices for other types of comparisons, what are they and how often do you use them?

Thanks

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TYPE 1. Products sold packaged and loose from bulk, for example cheese/cooked meats/nuts/fruit and vegetables. (frequently)

TYPE 2. Different pack sizes of the same brand of a product, for example one brand of breakfast cereal. (frequently)

TYPE 3. Different brands and pack sizes of a product, for example different pasta brands and pack sizes. (sometimes)

TYPE 4. Regular prices and temporary special offers, for example discounts/multi-buys/“free” extra quantity. (frequently)

TYPE 5. Products sold in simple and complex packaging, for example drink powder loose in a pack or in a pack containing sachets. (sometimes)

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I am frequently for all.

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Frequently for all where they are shown

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I don’t know if cans fall under ‘different pack sizes’, but I use unit pricing to compare the value for the contents of cans which of course are all in different sizes.

Problems occur when the contents of some cans are by weight, and others by volume for a similar product.

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In these cases I work to a rough rule (thanks to the metric system and that water is fairly dense and is the standard for 1 ml = 1 g) that 1 ml is roughly equal to 1 gram of a product eg 100 g roughly equals 100 ml.

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That is a great rule of thumb. I will bear that in mind. Thank you.

Hi, I am definitely frequently for all, as there was no ‘all the time’ option.
It is harder to do when the comparisons don’t use the same scale eg. per gm vs ml ie. weight vs volume.etc.
I do think that it is done like this to make it harder for us to compare.

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Ooh, now that’s interesting. Do individual companies change their product packaging from grams to millilitres (or vice-versa) in order to be a difficult comparison towards the competition? Consumer marketing knows no bounds, so I wouldn’t rule that out as an option!

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I also check the percentage description on the product label - eg tinned tomatoes. There is variation in the % of tomatoes in a tin of tomatoes which would not be picked up in the unit price comparison since this only compares the total packed weight but ignores the amount of the named product in the package.

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There is a great variation in unit pricing and the shopper has to be alert as to whether the comparison is valid, eg some comparisons are per ml, others per gram… There is no consistency here. Also, whilst some brands may appear better value, when one opens the packaging, can etc, one discovers that the actual product is a LOT smaller than one would expect eg. in tinned tomatoes, one may get 1 or even HALF a tomato, the rest is juice!

So whilst the unit pricing can be useful, like everything else including “special” shelf prices (where the special sale price is actually higher than the shelf price, try lifting the special tags), it pays to be vigilant.

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I also use them in Costco when buying items in bulk to compare: mineral water, tissues, toilet rolls, toothpaste

Thanks to everyone who has indicated how they use unit pricing. Does anyone who has only commented on inconsistent measurement-units want to say also how they use unit pricing?

Regarding inconsistent measurement-units: Yes this can be a problem with some products and not only with weight and volume measurement-units. In fact, I think the biggest problem is probably with weight and number (eg apples priced per each or per kg). The main cause is that the trade measurement laws allow some products to be marked/sold by weight/volume or weight/number. This is something that I plan to seek more info about from you in another post here.

There is also a problem sometimes when the retailer uses different weight or volume measurement-units to unit price different items of the same products e.g. some are unit priced per 100g and some per kg. Only one should be used and it is generally specified in the Code

Regarding variation in the % of a product in a package, eg tomatoes in tinned tomatoes: At the moment this is a “quality” issue that the shopper has to take into account when comparing unit prices. However, in the EU the drained weight is shown on some packaged products and this is used to calculate the unit price. It works OK if all the products of a type have drained weight but not so well if there is mix e.g. canned sardines in water have drained weight but those in tomato sauce do not. We do not have drained weight info in Australia.

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I think it would be very useful if we could have “drained weight” included on such things as tinned goods etc. I want to know how much of the tin (which can’t be seen through) is liquid that may or may not be used in preparation of a meal, to be able to judge how many tins I’ll need.

I don’t really see the need for unit pricing when it comes to fresh fruit and vegetables, after all, one usually purchases these in the quantities that are required for the individual’s circumstances. A household of one for instance purchases far less fruit and veges than a family of four, simply because there are more mouths to feed.

I agree that it could be beneficial for consumer benefits from having drained weight info on some packaged products and to use that weight for unit pricing. However, it will not happen until the trade measurement laws are changed.

I think that unit pricing is very beneficial for fresh fruit and vegetables irrespective of how much you are buying. It is much easier to make value comparisons if these products are priced per kg or per each when sold loose from bulk, and when the unit price (per kg or per each) is shown in addition to the selling price when these products are in prepacks.

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Let me explain why I believe that unit pricing for fresh fruit and vegetables is not beneficial. For starters, there is no uniformity in size of product. I’ve yet to find all bananas of one type exactly the same size for instance. Citrus fruit too can be very different, small heavy fruit indicates that it holds a lot of juice, whereas larger lighter citrus are often much drier…so how can one realistically assign a unit price when there is so great a variation in product? Pre-packaged fruit and vegetables are usually packed in approx 1kg lots, there is no option for the consumer to select individual items in the size that suits their needs best.

Unlike processed foods in cans or glass, it is virtually impossible for each package of fruit or vegetables to be exactly the same weight, it is an approximation only, packets could be slightly more or slightly less than the weight indicated on the label, because of the huge variety in shape and size.

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I usually compare units for cheapest price

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I rely heavily on the price per 100g (or similar) on the shelf sticker. Often though, “specials” do not include this information.

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I think unit pricing is one of those things that seemed like a good idea at the time. In real life, while not inherently confusing, it adds to the information that a shopper must or can process. Eventually there is an overload, like with road signs, and the shopper just starts putting the best looking product in the trolley.

Thanks for the added information/explanation. This is an important unit pricing issue so it is much appreciated.

Here my thoughts:

  1. With most products (packaged/loose, fresh/processed, etc) including fruit and vegetables, when deciding which is the " best value" you have to take account of more than just the unit price For example, quality, pack size, country of origin,or ingredients may also be important to you…However, unit pricing (whether it is the selling price per unit of measurement for products sold loose or the unit price for products sold in prepacks) gives a common price basis for starting to make value comparisons.

  2. With some fruit and vegetables the size of each item eg bananas, apples, cucumbers, kiwi fruit is definitely a quality factor that needs to be taken into account when comparing the unit price when they are sold loose or prepacked. But having the unit prices makes the decisions much easier than not having them. With prepackaged fruit and vegetables before supermarkets were required to provide the unit price (normally $ per kg but occasionally per each) these comparisons were much more difficult. So I use unit pricing a lot to compare value between loose products, packaged products and both.

  3. I agree that the advantages of having fruit and vegetables sold loos rather than prepackaged is that you can select the sizes etc that you want and get exactly the amount you want. But there are also disadvantages such as:
    ● People before you are likely to have handled the product, maybe damaged it, and picked out certain sizes;
    ● If the product is sold per piece and only the small sizes are left, the cost is increased;
    ● The unit price may be higher than the same or a similar product prepacked. Some of my examples of the latter are: carrots, onions, tomatoes and oranges. (I’d be very interested in other people’s views on this.)

  4. I agree that the amount of F&V you get in packages sold by weight may not be the same as is marked on the pack. However, normally there is more than the stated weight to due to the packer not wanting risk packing short measure. But, that is generally a small extra amount which if yo wish you can include in your comparisons of the unit price of the product sold loose or in packs.

So, I think shoppers can, and do, use unit pricing beneficially when buying fruit and vegetables. But,it is made much more difficult when some items of a products are unit priced per kg and some per each.

Finally, in general, I think that more fruit and vegetables should be unit priced per kg not per each and that only one measurement unit should be used to unit price ALL items of a product in a shop. But that’s a big topic for another day.

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