Supermarkets investigated over misleading discounts and special offers
Supermarkets are being investigated over concerns that inconsistent labelling means shoppers are being misled about discounts and special offers.
The UK's competition watchdog said it wants to ensure customers are able to compare prices after campaigners warned it is hard to spot the best grocery deals.
The regulator will look into how supermarkets put so-called "unit prices", the price per gram or millilitre, next to groceries rather than the cost of the product as sold.
It comes after a 2015 investigation by Which? claimed some supermarkets were using different terms for their unit pricing, for example at one point, including the price per pear, and at others the price per pack of four pears.
The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) investigated whether grocers were offering deals where it was unclear which products were the cheapest.
At the time, the CMA said there had been examples where customers could be misled by the different prices and promotions, and worked to stamp out those instances. It also found some differences in how supermarkets offered price-match schemes, and urged them to be clear and transparent with customers.
The CMA is launching its latest effort as it warned that cost-of-living pressures meant many people are scrambling to try to find the best value in stores.
New figures on Tuesday showed household grocery bills jumped by £788 a year after food inflation hit a fresh record high in January. It was the largest rise since Kantar started monitoring grocery inflation in 2008.
George Lusty, senior director for consumer protection at the CMA, said: “We know that the increased cost of living has hit the pound in people’s pockets.
“That’s why we’re pressing on with this important grocery unit pricing work to ensure shoppers can more easily compare prices and make choices that are right for them.”
The CMA said its project was at an early stage and it had not yet formed a view on whether grocers were failing to be clear with shoppers on different prices.
However, campaigners at Which? said poor, inconsistent and sometimes missing price information had proven to be a problem.
Sue Davies, Which? head of food policy, said: “Grocery prices are a huge concern as households all over the country grapple with the cost of living crisis, so it’s timely and important for the CMA to be looking at whether prices are clearly and fairly displayed at the supermarket."
Official figures earlier this month suggested many households had been forced to cut back how much they could buy, given the price increases on shelves. Consumers bought almost 6pc less in December, marking the biggest drop in the amount purchased in at least 25 years.
Since then, prices have only pushed higher. Shoppers are facing the sharpest increase in their grocery bills on record, after signs that food price inflation had passed its peak vanished in January.
Grocery prices increased by a “staggering” 2.3 percentage points in the four weeks to January 22.
The previous high had been in October 2022, with inflation appearing to ease in November and December.
However, analysts at Kantar said “that small sign of relief for consumers has been short-lived” in January, as supermarkets upped their prices once again after the Christmas period. Milk, eggs and dog food were among the items where prices rose the most, according to the Kantar analysis.