Do you ever think you’re paying a bit too much for your shopping? Even when you buy a supermarket’s own-brand, it still feels like your bank account’s taken a wallop. Sure, you could plump for the supermarket’s dirt cheap ‘value’ brand, but are you really getting value for money or buying into a false economy?

Own-brand versus value brand

Of course, the ever-rising price of food, and the general cost of living for that matter, doesn’t help. But it turns out that supermarkets have been playing a bit of game with their customers. It’s always been anecdotal and, perhaps, axiomatic that sometimes those more expensive products are exactly the same as the budget brands – except with a slightly higher price tag.

Now, according to the Daily Mirror, an investigative probe ‘found no difference in ingredients or nutritional value between the price tiers across a range of items.’ Indeed, often supermarket own-brand products came from the same factory as budget brand foodstuffs.

The Corn Flakes test

Let’s take the example of a classic staple of the British cupboard: Corn Flakes.

Fancy a bowl of Corn Flakes? Grab 500g of Tesco’s own-brand for just £1… Or pick up the Everyday Value pack for 45p. Of course, you’ll need milk to go with that, so pop over to Morrison’s and choose between a litre of Skimmed Long Life British Milk for 88p or a litre of Savers British UHT for 57p. There’s literally no difference in nutritional value, but there’s a big difference in price.

It might not sound like much, but all those 25ps here, 55ps there soon add up over the course of a year – for what amounts to the same product. Same factory, same ingredients, same nutritional value.

Misleading or justified?

Supermarkets were, unsurprisingly, quick to explain their reasoning behind offering identical products for different prices. Tesco claimed that they ‘want all our own-brand products [to] offer real value and are reviewing our approach to these,’ while Sainsbury’s said, ‘there are many factors which inform product specification. This will dictate the range it is in.’

Neither of which is likely to appease dissatisfied customers who are paying over the odds. So, is what supermarkets are doing fair on consumers? James Walker, from Resolver, a complaints website, doesn’t think so. He says: ‘Flogging the same products at different prices is misleading for shoppers.’

Meanwhile, Ratula Chakraborty, a retail expert at University of East Anglia, points out that:

‘Quality and taste might vary when there’s a slight difference in ingredients and retailers might be justified charging different prices.’

However, she also urges customers to check products for matching ingredients and buy the cheaper option when they’re identical. So, vigilance over what you buy and how much you spend remains, for now at least, the only way to beat the supermarket own-brand game.