Save, make, understand money

Household Bills

Poorest households reliant on small convenience shops miss out on budget ranges

Rebecca Goodman
Written By:
Rebecca Goodman

Many people on low incomes are missing out on cheaper groceries because they’re not on sale at smaller convenience shops, according to a campaign group.

Those who rely on small supermarkets are being penalised during the cost-of-living crisis because these shops do not always stock low-cost food ranges.

Two-thirds of people who earn £21,000 or less shop in a convenience store at least once a week, yet these shops hardly ever sell budget or basic ranges, according to Which?.

Low-income shoppers are therefore forced to pay higher prices if they’re unable to visit larger supermarkets. Many of them can’t afford to travel to bigger shops, or the delivery charges for online shopping. For other vulnerable shoppers, they may have mobility issues making them more likely to rely on convenience stores.

The research comes as food inflation stands at its highest level for 45 years and the cost of basic foods including porridge and cheese has risen by 80%.

Meanwhile, the discount supermarkets have seen record sales as shoppers look to cut grocery costs.

Convenience shops stock less than 1% of budget items

Mystery shoppers at Which? visited 123 Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco shops to check what stock was available.

They were asked to check a basket of 29 everyday budget items including dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, fresh fruit and vegetables, and minced meat and tinned fish.

The bigger supermarket shops had 87% of the products on average but in the smaller convenience shops, the basic items were available less than 1% of the time.

Of the 35 smaller shops visited, 30 did not have any items in the budget range while the remaining five had one item each from the list.

Shops were tested across the UK including in three areas where people are the most vulnerable to food insecurity including Don Valley in Yorkshire, North West Durham in the North East, and Rhondda in Wales.

In these specific areas, the mystery shoppers made 12 visits to smaller shops and found none of the items on the list in any of them.

The consumer champion is calling on supermarkets to address the pricing disparity across its smaller shops. It is also calling for all supermarkets to make pricing and offers more transparent so it’s easier to work out which goods provide the best value.

Many supermarkets have launched new incentives and lowered prices to help customers with rising costs. These include a Tesco price promise at Ocado and £2 fruit and vegetable boxes at Sainsbury’s, yet many of these aren’t available in smaller shops.

However, just last week Sainsbury’s launched a new ‘Pocket Friendly Prices’ scheme across its convenience shops signposting shoppers to value/everyday essential items such as chicken breast fillets, butter and baked beans.

‘Access to affordable food no matter where they live’

Sue Davies, Which? head of food policy, said: “At a time when millions of people are struggling to put food on the table, it’s shocking that budget range foods are not available to people who can’t get to a large supermarket. Everyone should have access to affordable nutritious food no matter where they live.

“Which? is now calling on supermarket bosses to ensure budget ranges that support a healthy diet are available in convenience stores, especially in areas where people are struggling the most. They must also make it easier for all customers to work out which items offer the best value for money by making sure their pricing is clear and easily comparable.”

Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, said: “We know that a great many people are really struggling at the moment, with food insecurity among children having doubled in the past year. So it’s vital that both Government and retailers act to support households through the current food price crisis.

“Low-income families simply can’t afford to travel to the larger supermarkets and are forced by their environments into using smaller stores. A Food Foundation survey in January found that 78% of lower income households said they’d like retailers to make budget ranges available in every store.”