Forget your visions of budget supermarkets selling cheap no-brand essentials; chains like Aldi and Lidl are keen to take a bite out of the luxury market too.
Both supermarkets have won awards for products you might not expect at a budget price, including champagne and other wines, cheese and meats. Very often they come top of blind taste tests, beating top luxury brands despite the lower prices.
So it was interesting to see that Aldi has expanded its “premium tier food range”, or as the press release put it “posh nosh”.
The brand has increased its luxury offering in 2015 to offer steak, smoked salmon, luxury cheeses and more.
And according to a brand spokesperson, this means that customers can buy cut-price luxury, as well as essentials.
But I wondered if that was true and decided to run a taste test of my own pitting Marks and Spencer’s 'not just food' against Aldi’s ‘specially selected’ luxury brands, to see which was better value. Here’s what I found…
First bite is with the wallet
It’s pretty obvious that you can buy wondrous luxury food for an expensive price, but that does always stick slightly in my throat.
So how did the Aldi and M&S prices match up? I chose the most similar products I could, testing only those luxury items that had been sourced and prepared comparably. For example, I bought Scottish salmon at both shops and steaks of similar weight and shape. Here’s how the prices compared:
|Product||Aldi price||M&S price||Price difference|
|Sirloin steak||£26.39/kg |
(£5.99 for individual steak)
(£8 for individual steak)
|£4.41 cheaper at Aldi|
|Breaded Wiltshire ham (4 slices)||£1.79||£3||£1.21 cheaper at Aldi|
|Stilton (220g)||£1.69||£2.44||75p cheaper at Aldi|
|Luxury fruit yoghurt||45p||80p||35p cheaper at Aldi|
|100g smoked Scottish salmon||£2.29||£5.50||£3.21 cheaper at Aldi|
|Total||£12.21||£19.74||£7.53 cheaper at Aldi|
So my basket of luxury treats was £7.53 more at Marks and Spencer. That’s more than 60% more expensive. But while that’s a lot, it is understandable given that one offers high-end food and one is a budget chain.
What matters is how they fair in a taste and quality test. I assembled a panel of five tasters and here’s what they had to say:
“These are both excellent steaks,” agreed my panel of meat-loving volunteer tasters. The M&S sirloin had been aged for 28 days and the Aldi one for 30 days, but both were similar sized steaks cooked rare and with little seasoning.
It was widely agreed that the M&S steak had the edge – just. The meat had a better texture and the flavour was richer. However, all agreed that the Aldi steak was delicious. “I prefer the M&S steak but I’d get to eat steak more at the Aldi price,” commented one, while another suggested that if you prefer your steak cooked longer or with a sauce then there would be no difference between the two.
One taster suggested that the M&S steak only had the edge because it had slightly more fat on it, delivering slightly more flavour.
Taste winner = M&S (just)
The M&S breaded Wiltshire ham looked more appealing and had a better colour, but the panel was divided when it came to taste.
Half preferred the M&S meat, which was slightly drier “but in a good way” and half thought the Aldi ham had the edge. No clear winner was declared, despite all the ham being consumed.
Taste winner = M&S/Aldi draw
“Creamy”, “rich”, “delicious”, and: “Why didn’t you buy biscuits?” These were the comments received on both the M&S and the ‘specially selected’ Aldi cheeses, and again, no clear winner was declared. However, on being pressed the panel decided the M&S cheese had a slight edge.
Taste winner = M&S
Luxury fruit yoghurts
We couldn’t get identical flavours to compare so this was a slightly tricky comparison. Both brands were creamy, full of fruit and flavour, and both disappeared remarkably quickly.
However, on balance the team declared the Aldi yoghurts the winner – won over by the budget supermarket’s use of a clear traffic light system to show sugar, fat and calorific content. The M&S packaging wasn’t as clear.
Taste winner = Aldi
Scottish smoked salmon
As they came out of the packets, the panel immediately commented that the Aldi salmon looked more appealing as it was much pinker than the M&S salmon.
However, the taste and texture of the pricier fish was much more delicate and so the majority of the panel preferred the M&S salmon. But one panel member was adamant that the Aldi salmon was better because it had a smokier flavour – showing the importance of trying cheaper brands yourself to find out which you personally prefer and where you can save money without sacrificing flavour.
Taste winner = M&S
So what does this mean for where we shop?
M&S had the more expensive food and overall it was also the tastiest. However, the panel of tasters were surprised at how small the differences were between some of the products when the price was so much higher.
One judge commented: “The M&S food might be 60% more expensive but I don’t think you get 60% more flavour for that. It had the edge but only just.”
Another added that she would be more willing to pay lower prices for a slightly less good product she could eat more regularly.
Budget supermarkets have already dominated the economy range market. Now it looks like they are coming for the luxury products too.
Have you compared any of these products? Do you have a tip for a particularly excellent budget bargain? Have your say using the comments below.