How to keep your food bills looking trim

You’re not wrong if you’ve been thinking your trips to the supermarket are getting considerably more expensive; the average family is now spending 20% more on the weekly food shop than it was 12 months ago, according to shopping comparison website

It found the price of all food and drink products has increased by an average of 5.9% over 2008 - well above the official rate of inflation. For hard-pressed families, the price of a weekly basket of staple food is even higher, increasing by 20% over the past year for 24 staple items. For a family of four spending around £100 on their weekly groceries, this would equate to a price hike of £1,040 per year.

“Our regular purchases are those which are being hardest hit by the rising price of commodities and fuel, so shoppers still need to keep a close eye on what they’re spending,” says Johnny Stern, director of “We would advise shoppers trying to stick to a tight budget to look out for better priced like-for-like items and special offers.”

It’s not just in the UK that food prices are rising. The price of milk, wheat and meat has doubled in some countries over the past year. Meanwhile, other staples such as corn and soya are trading at well above their 1990’s averages.

The International Rice Research Institute fears a ‘rice-price crisis’, with prices having risen 70% in the past year and more increases expected. As a result, some Asian countries are reducing the amount they export. In the UK, Indian restaurants are bearing the brunt of the crisis, with some upping the prices of rice dishes and others laying off staff.

The reasons behind the increase in the price of food are quite complex, but basically come down to supply and demand. On the supply side, poor harvests due to adverse weather conditions and decreasing growth in productivity have not been able to cope with the increase in demand. On the demand side, there are simply more mouths to feed.

Gonzalo Baranda, from investment marketing at JPMorgan Asset Management, says: "Demand has been affected by long-term trends: an increasing world population and a change in consumption patterns in rapidly growing emerging markets with, for instance, an increase in the consumption of meat."

Rising population

Underlying factors include the fact that the world population is expected to top nine billion by the middle of the century, and changes in emerging economies such as China and India. Economic growth in these countries is generating a new group of middle-class consumers who - to put it bluntly - eat more than poor people.

Baranda says that the price hikes have huge social implications as the poorer a family is, the bigger the proportion of its income is spent on food. "While in the US, less than 10% of total household expenditure is dedicated to food, it’s more than 25% in countries such as Mexico or Russia.

"As food inflation keeps increasing this is likely to create further unrest on two fronts: potential riots by poor people demanding access to affordable basic food, as happened in Haiti, bringing down the government there, and farmers opposing higher export tariffs, as in Argentina," adds Baranda.

While it’s unlikely the UK will see food riots, rising food prices are already putting pressure on household budgets. However, by following some simple tips there are ways you can save money on your weekly shop.

If you do all your shopping at a supermarket and don’t mind shopping online, can work out which will be the cheapest one for you.


To start shopping, just type in your postcode and choose a supermarket that delivers to your area. Select items for your shopping trolley via a shelf-like display. For easy navigation the products are sorted into the same categories you’d find in a normal supermarket, or you can search for products alphabetically or by brand.

As you continue shopping, there’s a price-checker tool that compares the overall cost of your trolley against that of other supermarkets. Once you’ve finished shopping you can change supermarkets - from Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Ocado (Waitrose) - to the cheapest one.

When you’ve selected your supermarket, go into the ‘save more’ section and swap certain items for cheaper like-for-like alternatives suggested by the site. Shoppers end by booking directly through the supermarket of their choice and selecting a home-delivery time slot.

However, despite being hailed as a great money-saving innovation, only focuses on big supermarkets with an online presence. A cheaper option still might be a trip to a budget supermarket such as Aldi, Lidl or Netto. These foreign-owned stores have a ‘no-frills’ approach and keep shop overheads low by locating stores on cheap land and having minimal shop furniture.

Cheap as chips

Just as the middle-classes have embraced low-cost airlines like Ryanair and become obsessed with cheap chic fashion from the likes of Primark, the same is happening with food; you can expect to see as many BMWs as beaten-up bangers in the car park at Aldi and Lidl.

A recent Which? survey found budget supermarket customers are more satisfied than those of the main players. Out of a maximum 100, discount stores Aldi and Lidl were awarded overall satisfaction scores of 66 and 64 respectively, higher than the big four supermarkets - Sainsbury’s (61), Tesco (58), Asda (58) and Morrisons (56). Which? editor Neil Fowler says: "There’s a minor retail revolution going on - Aldi and Lidl score well above giants such as Tesco, Boots and WH Smith. Customers appear to rate the low-price, no-frills approach."

If you have a large family another option is a cash-and-carry store such as Makro or Costco. You have to be a member to join these stores and will be eligible if you run a certain type of business or work for certain organisations. Makro and Costco buy food and other products in bulk and sell them at reduced prices.

If you don’t fancy downshifting to a budget supermarket or cash-and-carry, consider buying products from a supermarket’s own or no-frills brand. For example, in Sainsbury’s, a 440g jar of basic pasta sauce costs 26p, compared with £1.59 for a 500g jar of Bertolli tomato and basil pasta sauce.

While in the supermarket, you can also save a lot of money by buying food loose rather than pre-packed and it means you only buy the amount you need. Alternatively, you could keep your supermarket shopping to a minimum and use your local baker, greengrocer, butcher and fishmonger, or your local market.

But wherever you decide to shop there are some key points worth bearing in mind. First, never go shopping when you’re hungry as you’ll end up buying snacks and junk food you don’t really need. Second, make a shopping list before you set off and stick to it.

Most supermarkets have a number of three-for-twos or BOGOF (buy-one-get-one-free) offers running at any one time. These can be well worth it on items you regularly buy - but don’t end up filling your trolley with goods you don’t need or wouldn’t otherwise buy.

To find a list of current offers from Asda, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose or Somerfield, sign up for membership of It costs £5.20 a year (10p a week), and members can view information about discounts on brands and products in certain stores.

Featured promotion types include BOGOF, price offers, three-for-the-price-of-two and buy-one-get-a-second-half-price offers, ‘linksaves’ (buy a product and get another type of product free or cheaper), and extras free on manufacturers’ packs.

Finally, only buy what you are sure you will eat. Research by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) found that people throw away around 3.6 million tonnes of food each year in England and Wales, 60% of it untouched. The average household throws out £420 of good food a year, and the average family with children, £610.

So before you make your next trip to the supermarket, check what you need and what you’ve ended up throwing away, and write a list. And, when you’re in the supermarket, spend a bit of time making your choices instead of just loading up the trolley, and you could end up with a pleasant surprise at the checkout.

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