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Which baked beans are best value?

Felicity Hannah

Does a difference in price always mean a difference in value? It’s a question worth asking because there’s a huge price difference between big brands and their economy alternatives.

And nowhere is that price difference more obvious than in that family staple baked beans. Every supermarket has several shelves filled with cans, ranging from organic beans at almost a pound to budget beans at less than 30p.

But could you buy the cheaper beans without sacrificing taste or nutrition? I decided to find out.

So, after raising an eyebrow at the collection of cans in the kitchen, my husband put couple of jacket potatoes on to cook and we were ready to review.

Bean for your buck

In previous big-brand comparisons, I’ve found that the difference in price can be considerable.

For example, you can save around £60 a year eating own-brand breakfast cereals and almost 50% off a meal by using entirely budget brands.

So, how did the prices compare for baked beans?

Heinz Baked Beans (415g)
Branston Baked Beans (410g)
ASDA Baked Beans (410g)
Tesco Baked Beans (420g)
Smart Price Baked Beans (410g)
Everyday Value Baked Beans (420g)

It’s worth noting that Sainsbury’s does have its own brand baked beans, priced at 41p, as well as an economy-branded can, priced at 26p. However, there really is a limit to the number of bean-themed meals I can subject my family to in a week, so on this occasion I didn’t review them.

The price differences genuinely surprised me. The big-brand cans were 43p more expensive than the budget options – that’s 265% the price of the budget brands.

I couldn’t help but wonder if you can really get 265% more flavour – after all, we’re talking about cans of beans here, not high-end French cuisine.

The taste

The two most expensive cans had very distinct tastes, which surprised me. The Heinz can seemed sweeter than the Branston (although when I came to compare nutrition, it wasn’t), but both seemed good quality and had a thick, very tomatoey sauce.

But we couldn’t taste much of a difference between those big brands and the two supermarket-own choices. Perhaps the bean juice was slightly less thick, but they really did taste much the same.

There was a real difference between the budget options and the rest of the competition – both of the cheap cans had a much thinner, runnier sauce and slightly less flavour. However, the consistency and taste of the actual beans was just the same.

I found that the Tesco Everyday Value beans had the edge over the ASDA option, with a slightly strong tomato flavour.

Are cheaper beans worse for you?

When it comes to food, it’s obviously not just about saving money. It’s also about more than taste. We want to know that we’re making reasonably healthy choices, and not giving our children or ourselves too much salt or sugar.

So I was curious to see whether the cheaper beans would contain more bad stuff – perhaps to improve the taste without spending much more.

First of all, Heinz. These were the most expensive cans and also proudly proclaim “one of your five a day” on the packaging. Oddly enough, the only other can to make that claim was the Tesco Everyday Value beans – this wasn’t a claim found on the Tesco standard can.

I expected higher levels of salt in the cheaper beans, but they were much the same. The ASDA Smart Price contained 1.6g per half can, while Heinz had 1.5g per half can. It was much the same for sugars – half a can of the Branston brand contained 12.1g, while the budget brands contained 10g or less.

I was disappointed in ASDA’s own-brand baked beans, which were the only ones not to clearly display the nutritional information in an easily-comparable way, although it did do so with the Smart Price option.

Would I buy the cheaper brand?

Having tasted six different brands at such difference prices, I am confident that I’d never buy the big brands again.

The supermarket-own brands tasted very similar to the more expensive option, and there was no real difference in terms of nutrition.

Between the Heinz beans and the Tesco own, there was a price difference of 29p. My household probably eats its way through three cans of beans a week, so that’s a saving of more than £45 over a year.

A bigger family eating its way through five cans a week would save more than £75 a year switching to the supermarket’s own brand.

Subjective testing

It’s worth noting that this was a very subjective test. I like the juice in baked beans so didn’t like the cheaper cans that were particularly watery.

However, my husband isn’t so fussed about the juice, as he usually adds Worcester sauce and diced sausage anyway. So he’d be perfectly happy buying a 26p can rather than Heinz’s finest.

The lesson here is not to be afraid of testing the waters - I’m consistently impressed by the quality of budget brands, some taste cheap, watery and poor, but others are identical to their higher-priced competitors.

If you find one you like, you can shave considerable amounts off your weekly shop without sacrificing taste.