Unit Pricing: Comments sought on a draft international standard

Hi, a draft international standard on unit pricing is now out for consultation.It was prepared by an ISO committee on which I represent Consumers International (CI).

The draft generally reflects almost all of CI’s positions on key issues especially in relation to: Provision, Presentation, Units of Measure, and Consumer Education. It also reflects CI’s objective of ensuring the maximum possible consistency of compliance with these positions within and between: retailers; selling methods; and advertising forms.

However, it does not sufficiently emphasise the importance of, or provide guidance on a key CI requirement: monitoring and reviewing the quality and effectiveness of any unit pricing provided. It could also be substantially improved in several other ways.

Some of my suggestions and reasons for improvements are below and I’d welcome views on them, or any other ideas/suggestions. Unfortunately, I can not send you a copy of the draft but you can look at the Introduction and Scope here

Print size
Add an Annex (for information only) containing examples of minimum print size requirements/recommendations of different jurisdictions/agencies.
Comment: For a variety of reasons, the draft does not suggest any minimum print sizes. This suggestion is designed to overcome this by further emphasising the impact of print size on legibility and prominence and by ensuring that users are aware of specific requirements/recommendations in various countries. These include a minimum print size for the unit price and that the unit price print be the same size as, or a % of, the selling price’s.

State more clearly that for packaged products the unit price should be provided whenever the selling price is provided, for example generally if there are 2 labels/signs displaying the selling price of a product the unit price should be provided on each.
Comment: This is to ensure that retailers do not put the unit price only on small price signs and not on the large ones that most consumers look at.

Encourage the provision of the unit prices as a range (maximum and minimum) if a label/sign displays a single selling price for different sizes of a prepacked product, for example $1 for either a 100g or 120g bar of chocolate.
Comment: This is to ensure that retailers provide unit prices on such labels/signs, not required in Australia but some retailers provide the range voluntarily.

Add a separate section for Exemptions to cater for situations where it may not be feasible for retailers, or beneficial for consumers, to provide unit pricing. (Currently, there is only a note which recognises that laws and other documents may provide for exemptions.)
Comment: This is desirable because unit pricing legislation, guidelines, etc. usually provide for exemptions from provision. Examples include: bundles of unlike products sold at a single price, and items being sold at a reduced price because they are close to their use by date, have been discontinued, or have damaged packaging.

Units of measure
When available, allow drained weight not net weight to be the unit of measure for the unit price.
Comment: This will greatly increase the comparability of the unit prices of packaged products such as olives in brine and the same product sold unpackaged.

Allow units of measure such as per wash load for laundry products to be the unit of measure for the unit price, but only if there is a national, regional or international standard for the unit of measure.
Comment: This is to reduce lack of comparability of unit prices due to products of different concentration and type eg powders, tablets and liquids.

Quality management
Add Quality Management as a Main Principle and a separate Section.
Comment: This is needed because it is not specifically mentioned in the document even though the quality of the unit pricing provided by retailers is often inadequate due sub-optimal quality management resulting in intermittent provision, defective display, and the use of incorrect or inconsistent units of measure.


Great work Ian thank you.

The only thing I didn’t notice, and I don’t know if it is mention elsewhere, is that there should be consistency, so if a product line is unit priced by weight, all products should be by weight, or by number of items, etc.

I still see things in the supermarket where you can’t compare like with like, because they use different unit pricing across products.


Thanks for the comment. Fortunately, the draft does emphasize the importance of consistency within and between retailers with many aspects of unit pricing, including in the units of measure used for the unit price.

However, this is a challenging issue partly because, as in Australia, the units of measure usable for unit pricing are determined by trade measurement laws on what measurement can be shown on a packaged product and can be used for pricing of a product sold loose from bulk. And for many products the law allows the use of
more than one measurement. The main problem, as you note, arises from the allowed use of weight and number for many products.

When ever possible, and when OK for and accepted by consumers, I favour and advocate for using weight rather than number as the unit of measure on packs and for unit pricing.


That begs the question whether there is activity to address that disparity and mandate only a single unit per product type.


We have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get a review of the provisions in the the Australian Trade Measurement laws that result in the use of more than one unit of measure to indicate quantity and price per unit of measure for a product…

And, I have initiated discussion here some of the positive and negatives for consumers of reducing the number of units of measure that can be used. For example, when many fruit and vegetables (eg avocados) and bakery products (eg some bread rolls) can be, and are, sold by count or weight and when weight and count information is shown on packages (eg packs of tea bags showing net weight of pack and number of bags).

In general I favour less use of count. However,it really needs to be researched in depth looking at the needs and preferences of consumers and retailers. The latter seem to be moving to greater use of count not weight partly because it reduces the need to indicate weights on packaged products and to provide weighing equipment.


Would an intermediate step to to have stores use one or other only across all similar products. So for your tea bag example, the store would have to do all their unit pricing of tea bags by ONE of EITHER weight or by number (but not both)? There might not be consistency between stores, but at least there would be consistency within stores.


Many companies would be happy to game the system. Using an incredible shrinking tea bag as example, if I knew the unit comparison was by count I might be packing the most ‘tea free’ bags possible to make them look cheap.

Customers would eventually wake up but the comment is not about tea, it is about how businesses game the best of intentions.

Some things just need both IMO, or weight matters. A counter argument is that customers should have the ability to do some basic math and get the answer they need but they do not, enter unit pricing as more than just a convenience.


Yes, requiring a retailer to use only one unit of measure for all packages of a product type, eg tea bags, would be beneficial and possible when, as is common, all packages show the total weight and the number of items. It becomes less possible when for products where some packages only show weight and some only show number.

And, it would be even better if all retailers used the same unit of measure when there is a choice, which is not the present situation…

The denomination of the unit of measure, eg per each or per 100, is also important and again consistency of use within and between retailers is important.

The review of the Oz UP Code due to be completed before mid 2019 will be an opportunity to raise these sorts of problems and hopefully to get the Code and retailer compliance improved.

As I have said before, when there is choice I generally favour using weight not number to indicate the unit price.


Providing more than one unit price, eg for tea bags per 100g and per 100 bags, is something I have thought about and have seen done overseas, eg laundry products per wash and per unit of weight/volume/tablet.

However, unless there was clear evidence that it would benefit consumers and not confuse them I’d be reluctant to recommend it. What do you think?

On this point, largely because the UK allows the voluntary use of some imperial measures, in addition to the mandatory metric measures, the UK UP law requires that the print for any supplementary UP provided, eg per lb, must be be no bigger than that used for the mandatory unit price.

That is not an issue here. However, there is a problem here with retailers showing the UP per roll and per 100 sheets for rolls of toilet paper and per can and per litre for cans of coke etc. And, they always make the UP per roll or can much more prominent and legible than the other UP.

So, I’m going to try to get a UK type requirement in the ISO UP standard and any revised OZ UP code.


I’d just like to see everything priced by the kilogram - but there are exceptions that make the numbers a little silly :slight_smile: not impossible though …


If they priced as an example tea bags at both per 100 bags and bags per 100g a canny shopper could quickly ascertain if a tea bag was a decently filled one or was a fairly light one. On this site the issue of weak tea from cheap tea bags that didn’t obviously have enough tea leaves has been discussed:

This next one actually is a good pointer on the problem one box 100 bags and 180 g of product, another 100 bags and 200 g of product and yet another 200 bags and 480 g (100 bags to 240 g of product) but having the price per 100 g would also make it easier to compare value when combined with price per bag. Or perhaps number of bags per 100 g may be a better choice.


I think there are two aspects, one being the difficulty of getting any standard defined and accepted, and the other whether the standard reflects an arbitrary set or provides practical metrics for the product.

Re unit pricing, and the venerable tea bag argument, ‘we’ covered aspects of that [in another thread]((How easy is it to use unit pricing in the supermarket?) that was also previously linked above.

Some things just do not lend themselves to single meaningful units so whatever is picked will be arbitrary for some and meaningful for others. Is picking one going to be confusing, or providing the information for each group? I vote to specify both where it is clearly applicable such as tea bags, but not where it is subjective like ‘numbers of washes’ where there is no consumer concept of ‘the standard wash’ and machines come in 7, 8, 9, 10kg and more capacities making the number of washes per weight quite slippery.

I trust those examples made a point regarding real utility of unit pricing, not just the implementation.


Thanks for reminding me about problem of choosing the unit of measure for unit pricing SAFFRON!!!
During the negotiations on the Oz UP code we argued for the max possible use of kg as the unit of measure for unit pricing products sold by weight.
However, we ended up with per 100g as the standard unit of measure largely because retailers highlighted tha the unit price of saffron would be enormously expensive t per kg.
We argued in vain that even if per kg was the standard unit of measure, a much smaller unit of measure (eg per 10g as in the Code) could be allowed for such products.
Fortunately, we did manage to get kg as the required denomination of weight for unit pricing meat, fish, cheese, nuts, fruit and veg, etc because it is required by Trade Measurement laws when these products are sold loose from bulk or in packages of random measure (catch weight).
This is something that needs to be adddressed again when the Code is reviewed.


Putting more than one UP on shelf labels might be a challenge for grocery retailers with small shelf labels, eg Woolworths and some independent supermarkets.

I agree that to achieve the in principle/theoretical benefits of unit pricing it is essential to have:

  • appropriate laws/guidelines re presentation, units of measure, etc;
  • monitor and enforce retailer compliance;
  • consumer education.

The truth is scary isn’t it! The retailers are arguing based on the exception, rather than the rule.

Is it too much to ask people to just move the decimal point left, or right, when calculating UP?


Ask that in the US and see how you go :smiley: :smiley: :smiley:


I think having both indications - as in the example of dishwasher detergent (price per unit of weight/volume and price per tablet) is needed for all applicable products (tea bags, toilet paper, paper tissues, items of food sold by numerical unit ‘one pumpkin’ or ‘five bananas’ which are so often priced by weight.
It is really not much different to needing to be able to compare price between 1.25 litre beverage bottle and a 375 millilitre beverage can - the shopper is no more likely to take 4.5 bananas to the checkout than they are to take three-tenths of a 1.25 litre beverage bottle to the checkout.


Is this really a question of what makes the most sense to a consumer?

For dishwashing tablets the cost per tablet or per 100 may make sense in comparing two products. That assumes they both do an equivalent job.

For bananas or apples buying on weight is how we do it. If you like larger apples then fine. You get fewer. It’s the half a cabbage or pumpkin for $2 deals that you really need to watch out for in F&V.

We somehow survive on the roads with a variety of lane conditions and differing speed limits. If we can manage this we should be able to cope with differing unit measurements on different classes of product. The rules simply need to be set consistently for each class to reflect how we the consumer need. We do not need to be lemmings?

Spices could be marked per 10gms perhaps, although knowing saffron can go into the tens of thousands per kg may help save this spice from over use. While toilet tissue per sheet defies one set of logic as ply/thickness and strength vary and sheet sizes continue to shrink.

Is pre-packaged fruit & veg always marked with a weight and equivalent price per kg? Some is, some is not.


Thanks for the comment on this important issue for unit pricing policy and provision.

As I have indicated previously, I think that for some products it could be beneficial for consumers to have 2 unit prices provided.

However, it is essential for consumers to have confidence in the integrity of the unit of measure used for any unit price e.g.if a unit price per wash load is provided in addition to per unit of product weight/volume/capsule/tablet what constitutes “a wash load” needs to be defined in a standard.


Yes, the key is to have consistent rules for products but that is not easy to achieve, specially when products are offered for sale in terms of both weight and number (as is common with some fruit and vegetables).

For paper products in sheets, like toilet paper and kitchen towels, unit prices per 100 sheets (per sheet is useless) works OK if you consider that ply is a quality factor to take into account when comparing unit prices per 100 sheets. However, it does not work so well if sheet sizes vary greatly, so unit prices per unit of area e.g. per sq metre could be more accurate. However, that be not be OK for all consumers.