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Groceries in England... cheaper than U.S? Why?

During a recent trip to England, I couldn't help but notice that supermarket food items were significantly cheaper than what I pay in Philadelphia... even after conversion to the U.S. dollar equivalent. I can't remember exact amounts, but one example is Greek-style yogurt (which we couldn't even get in this country until a couple years ago!) It was about half of what I pay here.

Does anyone know why? We're a larger country... is transportation an issue? Or are we just getting ripped off?

On a related note, the dairy products seem to be of a much higher quality in England (not to mention the chocolate!) Any insight would be much appreciated.

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  1. I suspect you didn't 'average' everything out. Meat is cheaper in the US. Bread and dairy tend to be cheaper in the UK. Yoghurt is relatively new in the US. The typical yoghurt display in a UK supermarket is twice as big with much more variation. The following statement is speculative opinion: Brits spend a higher percentage of their food budget in shops as opposed to restaurants.

    12 Replies
    1. re: Paulustrious

      Meat is probably cheaper for several reasons. Firstly, we don't have huge agribusinesses here. Secondly, we are a small, over-populated country so land is at a premium. Thirdly, petrol is a lot more expensive so transportation costs more. Fourthly, and I'm not positive about this, I think the use of antibiotics and growth hormones is probably less common.

      1. re: greedygirl

        Note that the English don't find meat cheap. I will never forget standing at the meat counter at the Safeway on Edgware Road in London as a woman picked up a piece of wrapped meat, threw it back into the freezer bin, and said with disgust, " 'e want four pound for this, do 'e? Well, 'e can stick it up 'is 'ole, 'e can".

        1. re: Querencia

          Well there's no way you can buy chicken for 69 cents per pound in England, as is the case in America. The question is, what does that chicken taste like?

          1. re: greedygirl

            Well, unless one buys their chicken from Whole Foods or some other source (perhaps a local farmer) it tastes like all the other chicken on sale at a normal grocery store, because that's usually a loss-leader sale price. I've gotten whole chickens and chicken legs at a similar price from nearly every grocery store in town, including Tesco's Fresh & Easy and the "natural" markets (Sprouts and Sunflower). The only places that I haven't seen such a sale are Whole Foods and Trader Joe's.

            My husband's a college student. We live on only my modest income. Our only debts are our mortgage and my very small car payment (which is almost paid off). We don't eat out much, our only luxuries are cable/internet. I shop the loss leaders and stock up on those. I try not to buy many processed foods and I try to cook from scratch. It's the best we can do for now.

            1. re: Jen76

              I live in the UK. A good price for factory farmed chicken is £1.99 a pound. Free range chicken is about double that in the cheapest supermarkets (Aldi and Lidl) but it has a lot more flavour. Also I can't bring myself to eat chicken that has been raised intensively, but that is a choice that I can now afford to make. :-)

              1. re: greedygirl

                Wow. That's expensive! I'd say regular price here where I live is around $1.29/lb. I don't think I can even buy a free range chicken at a "regular" grocery store. Maybe at one of the "natural" markets. Definitely at Whole Foods and TJ's. I used to shop at Whole Foods a lot more when we both worked.

                1. re: Jen76

                  My usual mid range supermarket is Sainsbury. Whole chicken prices from their website:

                  Standard "basics" range - £1.99 per kg

                  "Freedom Food" * - £2.79 per kg

                  Free Range - £4.33 per kg

                  Organic - £5.49

                  Obviously jointed products like breast are more expensive per kg.

                  I usually buy the free range but occasionally the organic. I am not prepared to buy factory produced meat. We make economies elsewhere.

                  * ("Freedom Foods" standards are slightly higher welfare conditions designed in conjunction with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)

                  1. re: Jen76

                    Sorry, I think that must be the price per kilo. So not that much difference really.

                    1. re: greedygirl

                      Well, I just went shopping. At Trader Joe's the free range whole chickens are $1.99/lb (and they were ginormous) and the organic, free range whole chickens are $2.69/lb (also huge). Each chicken was ~$10-13. I would hazard a bet that these are the best prices in town for organic and/or free range chicken. Organic eggs are $2.99-3.99 per dozen. Organic milk is ~$6 per gallon (3.8 litres).

                  2. re: greedygirl

                    Aldi is in the US (mostly East Coast, South & Midwest), same store size, design and layout.. Cheap prices, but unfortunately don't think I've ever seen free-range chicken in Aldi here!

                2. re: greedygirl

                  ya thats a joke you try to buy chicken for 69 cents a pounds maybe 10 years ago

                  1. re: david98501

                    Last week, on October 29, 2014, I saw chicken leg-thigh combinations for 59 cents lb at the Shop & Save on South Archer in Chicago. That is a remarkably low price in these times, but, there it was. The chicken looked very nice.

          2. I agree. When I was a student in the UK, my average grocery bill was significantly more expensive in the UK than what I paid in the U.S. My shopping list is usually produce and protein heavy, both of which tend to be more expensive in the UK than the U.S., especially in California where I live now. My friends who have lived for significant periods of time in the UK have had a similar experiences.

            Actually, I remember inviting some students from Europe who were interning with me in LA one summer to a barbecue we were hosting, and they were absolutely shocked at the amount of meat we were grilling because they were so used to it being so expensive.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sidwich

              Thanks for the feedback Paulustrious and Sidwich... I guess that explains it... we didn't buy or even check prices on any meat or produce. We tend to pick up cereal, snack items, cookies and things like that to have back at the hotel. Your theory about home cooking vs. restaurant meals is a good one too.

              Yes, I was so jealous of the wonderful selection of yogurt... perhaps in time we'll get the same kind of variety here! Thanks again!

            2. I am going to agree with the OP. I am a Brit living in Florida and was surprised on a recent trip back to Blighty how much cheaper food and supermarket goods are in England compared to the US pound for dollar. Staples like bread milk eggs cereals are way cheaper and so are fruit and vegetables and the variety and quality of produce far far far exceeds that which I can buy in Florida.

              1 Reply
              1. re: smartie

                Really? Honestly, that was my distinct impression...glad to have the confirmation... just wish I knew why!

              2. I spend a fair amount of time in the UK every year.

                At a typical British supermarket versus a typical American supermarket:

                Baked goods, eggs, dairy, cheese are all higher quality and cheaper.

                Produce tends to be slightly more expensive, but will also be more seasonal, so fruits in the spring and summer are outstanding.

                Meats are more expensive, but I have always preferred to buy from a butcher and I pay a fair price for the quality I buy.

                Prepared foods is legendary and is not only better quality but cheaper than in the US.

                American supermarkets will have a wider range of foodstuff on offering, but British supermarkets have greater depth among the goods offered. The variety of sugar, coffee, dairy products, produce and so forth is impressive.

                British people do not dine out nearly to the extent Americans do, but there is a lot of takeaway.

                10 Replies
                1. re: Roland Parker

                  Roland I will agree with you on all counts pretty much, it is amazing how many types of sugars for example are available in the UK compared to America and for sure the dairy sections of British supermarkets are unbelievable. When I lived in London my local Tescos had stocked aisles both sides full to bursting with yoghurts, cheeses, butters, creams, etc and a deli counter packed to the brim with more cheeses.

                  Prepared foods at stores like Marks and Spencers are the kiss of death to home cooking! I have yet to buy anything bad or not incredible there.

                  1. re: smartie

                    What I miss is the takeout curries in the supermarket.

                      1. re: smartie

                        In the UK? Which supermarkets? I say this as a UK resident interested in the range of supermarket ready meals.

                        1. re: Lizard

                          M and S - all their meals are fab. Tescos, Sainsbury's and Waitrose all make perfectly good ready to eat stuff. You cannot get anything like it in America except for some under par frozen stuff.

                          1. re: smartie

                            We have Tesco here in Arizona--it's called Fresh and Easy here in the states. I have to say it has excellent prices and the quality is generally high. I'm extremely picky about pre-prepared foods and I haven't had anything I like from F&E (the texture just isn't quite right, but then again, I don't like a lot of leftovers for the same reason). My husband, who is less discriminating, loves their stuff.

                            1. re: modthyrth

                              F&E's chicken noodle soup bowls are pretty good, and I'm not usually a big fan of chicken noodle soup unless it's homemade. Their "grocery store" sushi rolls are quite tasty as well and don't seem to have that weird mushy rice texture that so many others do. I like the field greens salad with the balsamic dressing, also. I bought all of these right after the markdowns one day to try as I'm not usually a big fan of pre-prepared foods. I might actually pay full price for them again. They were great for work lunches. I haven't tried any of the heat-up meals as they don't look very appetizing to me when they are sitting there all cold and congealed. I don't think their prices are the best in town, but they are competitive. I am a bit disappointed that they seem to be bringing in more "typical" products/brands that you can find at any other store. For me, that takes away the uniqueness and thus, my reason to shop there.

                          2. re: Lizard

                            Lizard

                            Rather than the pre-packaged curries, you'll be better off in one of the supermarkets that have a "curry bar", when you can buy whatever portion size you need. My local Sainsbury normally has half a dozen or so main courses, together with the usual range of starters and sundries. As with pre-packaged, they just go in the microwave - or as Mrs H descibes them "chicken PING".

                            1. re: Harters

                              I'm sure I would be better off in one of those supermarkets. Unfortunately, I have yet to find one in my immediate environs.

                    1. re: Roland Parker

                      I think everything you said up to (but not incl.) the last paragraph mirrors that of Canada (just substitute "British" for "Canadian", at least for our metropolitan areas.

                    2. Well we have the facilities to compare. We have people in the US, Canada and the UK. Now all we have to do is get a few prices. So I'll start a basic list and see how it goes. We can adjust for quantity.

                      500gm / 1 pound of butter
                      2lb / kilo of sugar
                      10lb of flour (plain white)
                      1 litre / quart of basic plain yoghurt.
                      2lb bag of frozen 'sweet' peas
                      18 inch pizza (basic, maybe some sliced salami stuff)
                      Tin of chickpeas
                      lamb chops (per pound)
                      sirloin & tenderloin steaks
                      canadian / back / peameal bacon
                      dozen eggs
                      milk
                      country pate (rough chop)
                      Olives (pack 'em in a plastic container type)
                      3L canola / rapeseed oil
                      simple sliced loaf in a plastic bag
                      a baguette (and a proper one, not just a skinny white loaf)
                      An artisinal bread - say a ciabatta
                      1lb apples
                      oranges
                      grapes
                      cabbage
                      10 / 25 lb potatoes
                      bunch of cilantro / corriander
                      500gm Italian spaghetti
                      1 pint 35% (ish) cream
                      baked beans / pork and beans
                      1lb blue mountain coffee ...and...
                      large box of teabags

                      That should do. If people are interested I'll build a spreadsheet on google docs which we can all update.

                      16 Replies
                      1. re: Paulustrious

                        I'm in! I'll do the U.S. prices... I can probably get them this weekend. Watch this space. Not sure how to use Google docs though...

                        1. re: 60s Girl

                          Ok, I've tried to create it and grant access to everybody. I'll lock it down when it is basically filled in.

                          http://spreadsheets.google.com/ccc?ke...

                          Can someone verify that they can change it?

                          A couple of 'rules' to give this some credence.

                          1) Try stick with similar quantities. I know 56lb of spuds is cheap in the UK and half a cow is bargain in the US
                          2) Just put in the quantity and price in your currency. I'll try and get the formulas right next time. This doesn't work quite like Excel unfortunately.
                          3) Add a line or two if you think there's another food that should be included. Say salmon. Avoid national things like black pudding or grits.

                          1. re: Paulustrious

                            I tried to enter $6.50 for the pizza for Canada and the spreadsheet won't let me put the '0' in...its probably just me?

                            1. re: LJS

                              No - it just thinks the '0' is irrelevant. I haven't worked out the formatting rules yet, and it looks like I cannot duplicate formulae. If you like you can put in 6.49. It's not going to make much difference.
                              If anybody knows their way round google spreadsheets I will happily relinquish the reins. Otherwise you will have to wait till I've overcome the learning curve / kerb / curb.

                              1. re: Paulustrious

                                The natural default is rounding. I've cleaned it up a little and have it going to two decimal places and adding in the pound sign for the UK column

                            2. re: Paulustrious

                              I havnt the time to do this with UK pricing but if anyone wants a shot, log on to one of our major mid-range supermarket chains - Sainsbury or Tesco - and go to the "home delivery shop". You should be able to get most prices - although you will need to readjust for quantity. Our pack sizes will almost certainly be smaller. 10lbs of flour ? That's two bags of potatoes! Pack sizes will be metric.

                              1. re: Harters

                                I took a look at the prices on Sainsbury's site (Tesco required registration). They don't seem any lower to me; in fact, almost everything seemed higher. That being said, metro-Phoenix is one of the most competitive grocery markets in the country, so I'm sure our prices are lower than many other places in the US. I know my friends that live in Chicago and Denver are envious of my low grocery bills.

                          2. re: Paulustrious

                            Can a Canadian play, too? I am always struck by how much more I get for my grocery dollar when we go to our camp in Maine than what I pay here in Canada-but I'd like to quantify!

                            1. re: LJS

                              For identical products, US is definitely cheaper.

                              But broadly speaking (regulations, quality and gov't standards aside), ALL meats, dairy (cheeses, milk, ice cream, butter), eggs and processed foods are 20-40% cheaper at a typical US supermarket than in Canada. Mind you, those industries are also more subsidized in the US than they are in Canada.

                              An article about why Canadian cheeses cost more:

                              http://www.vancouverobserver.com/food...

                            2. re: Paulustrious

                              OK - here's what I'd pay for some of the above.

                              Butter - about 90p for half a pound of unsalted
                              Flour - £1.50ish for organic plain white (non-organic much cheaper)
                              Yoghurt - slightly less than £2 for a litre of greek-style yoghurt
                              Chickpeas - three tins for a £1 in a local market
                              Bacon - I think it's around £5 a pound in my butcher for the proper, dry-smoked stuff. Regular bacon is about £4,
                              Sirloin steak - around £7 a pound, again at my local butcher - excellent quality, properly sourced
                              Eggs - I pay about £1.20 for half a dozen large, free-range organic eggs
                              Milk - I always buy organic. Around £1 a litre
                              Olives - totally depends on the quality. My favourite marinated olives are about £1.30 for 100g at the local deli
                              Canola - comes in 1 litre bottles here. Less than a pound a bottle, I think
                              Sliced loaf - never buy it but completely depends on the quality
                              Baguette - probably around a pound to £1.50 for a proper artisanal baguette
                              Ciabatta - about the same as a baguette
                              Bunch of coriander - 50p from any number of market stalls near my house
                              Italian spaghetti - I buy De Cecco from the deli and it's £1.30 I think
                              1 pint cream - about a £1 or less
                              teabags - again, depends on the quality. I pay around £2 for my Twinings Earl Grey but bog standard builders tea is less than that.

                              1. re: greedygirl

                                Hard to do apples to apples comparisons, but at $1.79 Cdn to 1 UK pound, these are typical supermarket prices in Toronto (not necessarily organic):

                                Butter: $2.79/lb = 77p for half pound
                                Eggs: $1.97/dozen = 55 p for six
                                Milk: $3.97/4 l = 55p/l
                                Bacon ("regular", which I believe you call "streaky" bacon):
                                $3.99/lb = 2.22 pounds/lb
                                Fresh baked ciabatta: $3.29 for a 15" round loaf:
                                $3.29 = 1.83 pounds

                                Steak is a whole 'nother question. I can get supermarket quality (Canada Grade "AA"/USDA Select) for $3.99/lb on special. Canada AAA/USDA Choice is rarely available at less than $10/lb (5.58 pounds). And when I want to splurge, and get Canada AAAA/USDA Prime, then $20-25/lb (11-14 pounds) is not unreasonable.

                                1. re: FrankD

                                  Where are you getting butter for $2.79 / pound? I have trouble finding butter for $3.99 / pound in Toronto and Ottawa!

                                  1. re: vorpal

                                    My local Trader Joe's here in Los Angeles sells butter for $2.79/lb.

                                    1. re: sidwich

                                      Perhaps, but this price list was for Canada, not the US, and is in Canadian dollars.

                                      1. re: vorpal

                                        Ahha. The great international butter discussion! In which case, these prices from my normal mid-range British supermarket (all pack sizes - 250g):

                                        English - 94p
                                        Irish - 95p
                                        British organic - £1.15
                                        French - £1.20
                                        New Zealand - £1.20
                                        Danish - £1.25

                                2. re: greedygirl

                                  Thanks Greedygirl. I dunno, with the possible exception of the bacon, sirloin, and artisinal breads, those prices seem really low to me.
                                  On a side note, the quality of meat that I get her in Philadelphia supermarkets is abysmal while pricey. I have to go to a butcher to get anything decent. Just as an aside, the quality of meat in New York is much, much better (don't ask me why!)