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Why the UK's food prices aren't so high after all


Germans pay the least for their groceries and Canadians the most, according to a survey of supermarkets in seven major world cities by Guardian Money, which found that British shoppers generally enjoy low prices compared with families overseas.

The survey also confirmed some national stereotypes. Beer was cheapest in Germany, while New Yorkers have the lowest prices for Coca-Cola. Potatoes are a bargain, guess where, in Ireland. And Britain? We have the cheapest bananas.

Europeans generally fared better than North Americans or Australians. The vast prairies of the US make it the bread basket of the world, yet shoppers in New York pay twice the price for a loaf of bread than those in London or Berlin. In Toronto, sky-high prices for meat pushed a typical trolley of goods to the highest in the survey.

We don't claim our survey is an exhaustive or scientific analysis of grocery prices around the world. We asked our correspondents and contributors in the seven cities to go to their usual supermarket – which may not necessarily be the cheapest. Kaiser's in Berlin is pricier than Lidl. Auchan may not have had the same offers as Carrefour in Paris.

We created the shopping list in London, and it inevitably reflects British purchasing habits. Fresh milk appears madly expensive in Paris – more than double the price charged in London – but the French buy relatively little fresh milk, preferring UHT instead.


 例えば、ドイツではビールが安く、コカ・コーラを最も安価で購入できるのはニュー・ヨーク。同じテスコが展開しているにもかかわらず、全てがロンドンより高いダブリンで、ロンドンよりずっと安いのはジャガイモ。そしてロンドンのバナナは最安値(go bananasは、madになるという意味で、比喩として使うバナナという単語はネガティヴな意味合いを含むことが多い)パリでは、ロンドンでは普通に購入できる新鮮な牛乳がとても高い。それは、フランスでは新鮮な牛乳を日常で使うことは多くなく、長期保存ミルクの方が普通だから(これは、紅茶に冷たい牛乳を入れるイギリスと、コーヒーへミルクを入れるときは暖めることが普通のフランスの間にある差だろう)。

Parisians might turn up their noses at such low-cost items – in Auchan, loaves started at around £1.40, but they are probably a very different product to English sliced white. And how should we account for local tastes? In London, our shopper bought cheddar, in Paris it was camembert and in Berlin, gouda. We didn't even try to compare with Shanghai or Tokyo, where dairy products remain a very infrequent purchase.

New York presented the biggest challenge. Our shopper used a mix of local stores – reflecting the fact that while Londoners might see a Tesco on every major shopping street, New Yorkers do not have a Walmart on their doorsteps. Interestingly, our New York and Toronto shoppers specified that they had bought "free from hormones" meat; in the EU, beef with injected hormones is banned.

Finally, fluctuating exchange rates make price comparisons treacherous. Both the Australian and Canadian dollars rapidly appreciated against sterling, and although the pound has recovered some ground this year, it is still a long way below its peak – making prices in those countries appear very high, although compared with local wages they are much less so.





Interestingly, our New York and Toronto shoppers specified that they had bought "free from hormones" meat; in the EU, beef with injected hormones is banned.




Meanwhile, German shopping habits are evolving fast. According to a GfK survey from October last year the number of people who say they deliberately buy less so they don't have to throw away has risen from 44% to 52% since 2010.

"Demographic change plays a crucial role in this trend. In Germany, the number of large households who do their weekly shop in one go is shrinking. Young, single-household shoppers tend to shop more spontaneously, and are more likely to ignore supermarkets altogether in favour of eating out, or do their shopping at local markets."



London may be viewed internationally as a very expensive city, but in our survey it was second cheapest for groceries. Some things appear crazily cheap – for example, bananas in Tesco are half the price of those at Auchan in Paris and a quarter of those in Loblaws in Toronto. Milk is also a fraction of the price charged in other international cities, and eggs too. But these super-low prices have attracted controversy. When Tesco slashed the price of a four-pint 2.27 litre carton from £1.39 to £1 earlier this year, it prompted howls of outrage from dairy farmers. The Fairtrade Foundation says the price war over bananas is seriously damaging developing countries.



Prices, she says, have stayed fairly constant in recent years. "For the French, culturally and psychologically, any real rise in living costs is reflected in the price of a baguette – still a daily purchase for many. A standard baguette costs around €0.90 at the local boulangerie, a figure that hasn't changed significantly for over two years."


The low cost of wine – and quality wine at that – helped to keep Paris towards the bottom of the table for the total cost of our basket of goods. "Autumn sees annual wine fairs in most supermarkets, where you can stock up on cases of excellent, well-priced wines for a fraction of the price in the UK – with even a wine expert on hand to discuss the best bargains. But it's a struggle to buy what are termed 'foreign' wines – those from Italy, Spain, Australia, Chile etc. You have to head to the dust-covered shelf at the back of the shop for those."

The same goes for cheese. "You will find a huge range of French cheeses at affordable prices such as brie at just €7.05 a kg, but again you won't find much that isn't French. For a nice chunk of mature cheddar, it's off to Marks & Spencer, which has just reopened in Paris. On the downside, the cost of everyday toiletries is expensive. You won't get much change from €4 for a standard 250ml bottle of shampoo, and the same for a name-brand deodorant or shower gel."



Dublin may not quite be the mega-size of other cities featured in our survey, but is interesting because we were able to directly compare the prices at in the UK with virtually identical items (with identical packaging) at in the Republic – and found some shocking differences. As is the case in Britain, Tesco is Ireland's biggest supermarket chain.

Tesco eggs in Dublin are 44% pricier than in London. Tesco onions are 51% more. Weirdly, broccoli is 201% pricier (€5.35/£4.22 per kg vs £1.40 a kg). The same pack of Finish dishwasher tablets were half the price in the UK compared to Ireland. But it raises a cheer to see that potatoes, at 59p a kg, were the cheapest in our survey and compare to 80p a kg at Tesco in Britain.




New York is unlike any other major world city in that the deep-discount supermarkets – such as Walmart and Costco – have zero presence in the city. Our survey, which showed that prices in New York were second highest after Toronto, gives a skewed picture of the United States overall. Many Manhattan residents shop at smaller stores, which don't have huge buying power, but they also tend to eat out more than residents in other capitals.


"New York is not the easiest place to save money on groceries. We have many small grocery stores with limited choices. Now, we have a few newer, larger grocery stores, but they are higher priced because the quality of food is better (organic, free-range, hormone free). These stores have lower priced good-quality foods but few bargain brands to choose from.

"We eat a lot of whole foods, but limit our organic produce and meats because we just can't afford them. Fish is very expensive so it is not a regular product."


Canada's biggest city came out the surprise loser in our survey, with our basket of goods costing 40% more in Toronto than in Berlin. Meat prices were especially high, as was wine and beer. Canada, like Scandinavia, strictly controls the sale of liquor and has set minimum prices for alcohol, designed to reduce excessive drinking.


British tourists to Australia return home with stories of gob-smacking local prices – largely the result of the vertiginous rise in the Australian dollar on the back of a two-decades long economic boom. When commissioning this survey, we expected prices in Sydney to be the worst – yet we found that with meat and wine prices relatively in line or even below other places, our basket of goods came in below the level of Toronto. There was even one item cheaper than anywhere else: at Coles supermarket in Sydney basic vanilla ice cream costs just 60p a litre.






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