The supermarket bag tax you don’t know you’re paying

Do you choose your own fruit or grab a ready-filled bag? You could be paying far more than you need…

When you’re out shopping, do you grab a handy bag of apples or choose individual pieces of fruit? Do you root through the onions or pick up a ready-packed net?

Shopping with a toddler, I often find myself buying the ready-bagged fruit and veg, just to save those extra few seconds.

But what’s the price difference? How much more am I paying for this tiny convenience?

The difficulties of supermarket sums

Annoyingly, it is very difficult to work out supermarket prices per item. The supermarkets seem to do all they can to muddy the waters; pricing some items by weight, some by individual item and some by the pack.

Take, for example, ASDA’s loose white baking potatoes, priced at 13p for 100g, while a pre-packed bag of four baking potatoes costs ‘23.8p a potato’. Maybe you know the average weight of a baking spud, but I certainly don’t, so it’s difficult to compare prices properly.

In fact, this is the subject of a Which? campaign demanding clearer unit pricing. I headed to Sainsbury’s, which has already put like-for-like unit prices on most of its fresh produce.

The price of a pre-packed bag

So, how did the prices vary? I took a notepad, left the toddler at home and went to have a look. I was careful to compare like for like, rather than a pre-packed ‘top’ range to a loose ‘basics’ range.

Pre-bagged price
Loose price
Price difference for bagged
Fairtrade bananas
18.8p each
(8 for £1.50)
13.4p each
5.1p more expensive each
Braeburn apples
33p – 40p each
(£2 for a bag of 5-6)
29.2p each
3.8p – 10.8p more expensive each
Unwaxed lemons
30p each
(£1.50 for 5)
30p each
No difference
Sweet potatoes
(£1.85 a 1.25kg bag)
40p more expensive/kg
Baking potatoes
(95p for a bag of 4)
18p cheaper/kg
(bag of 3 for £1)
£1.32 more expensive
(1kg bag for £1)
10p more expensive
55p each
(£1.65 for a bag of 3)
80p each
25p cheaper
(£1 for 335g)
49p more expensive
(£1 for 500g)
50p cheaper

Prices accurate on 18.12.12

So, buying five bananas, apples, lemons and peppers, plus 1kg of sweet potatoes, baking potatoes, onions, carrots, broccoli and sprouts ready-packaged would cost me £17.77.

Buying those items loose would cost me £13.73. That’s £4.04 cheaper!

These results surprised me twice. I was shocked at the difference in price a bag can make - £1.32 more for a kilogram of onions just because they’re in a net?!

I was also surprised that some items were cheaper pre-bagged. It just shows that supermarkets need to price things more clearly so that customers can make informed choices.

Overall, though, it’s clearly far cheaper to choose your own fruit and veg. That way, you can also choose the best produce and not find a squashed or bruised piece when you get home.

More expensive and more wasteful

I think what frustrates me the most about these price differences is that I have often bought more than I want, simply because the bag is bigger than I need.

For example, when we plan on eating three jacket potatoes, I’ll often pick a bag of four assuming that the last one will be eaten. All too often it isn’t, meaning I’m paying more than I need AND wasting more.

So, that’s my New Year Resolution sorted. No more boosting supermarkets’ profits because I can’t be bothered to fill a bag!

What do you think? Do you grab handy bags or choose your own? Do supermarkets make it deliberately hard to find the best deal? Share your thoughts in the comments below.