Blogging from the Highlands of Scotland
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Tuesday 13 December 2011

Price differences in Nairn - Sainsbury's & the Co-op

Yesterday I had my first visit to the main Co-operative supermarket in Nairn since Sainsbury's opened here back in August this year. I didn't need to buy much, or anything really, but as I was in town anyway I thought I'd take a glance and see what might have changed in the past few months - not a lot, in summary. I did buy a few things (some cheeses, some liquorice allsorts [which I only have around Christmas, as I gorge on them, however big the box!], and some paté), but only really so I wouldn't walk out of the shop with nothing.

However, I did notice a couple of items which illustrate the price differences, some pretty dramatic, between Sainsbury's and the Co-op. Sainsbury's is not known as a low-cost supermarket (and is generally a little more expensive than Tesco, in my experience), but for many things it seems to be positively cheap when compared with its 'rival' in Nairn! The two items I noticed in particular:

- Brussels Sprouts - bagged - £1.00 in Sainsbury's for 500 grams, but for the same price at the Co-op, the bag contains only 250 grams. In other words the Co-op is charging double what Sainsbury's charges for this basic, if seasonal, vegetable! It so happens I had purchased some loose at Sainsbury's a day earlier, and the charge was £1.90 for a kilo, a little less than the bagged price; I didn't notice that the Co-op had them for sale loose. I tend only to buy brussels sprouts in the run-up to Christmas and in January. I love them, either simply steamed or occasionally I will over-cook them deliberately, then purée them with cream and freshly-ground nutmeg; if I'm feeling in the mood I will pipe the purée into spirals on baking-paper to keep warm in the oven - I love it!

- Sherry - Amontillado - bottle of 1 litre. In Sainsbury's this sells for £6.49, whereas in the Co-op it is on sale for £6.89, a 40p (or a 6.2%) mark-up. I buy sherry of various kinds on a very regular basis and can therefore report that Amontillado at Tesco costs £6.47 for a 1 litre bottle, but the 2p price differential (possibly with similar savings on other items) is perhaps only partially worthwhile for a major shopping-basket, given that one must drive either to Inverness or Forres to shop at Tesco, so the slightly higher costs at Sainsbury's seem relatively unimportant. A further advantage of shopping at Sainsbury's for a regular sherry-drinker such as me is that, unusually for a supermarket, they have two different styles of Amontillado, a 'Pale Dry' and a 'Medium', whereas both the Co-op and Tesco have only one, of the 'medium' variety. Sainsbury's 'Pale Dry' is not quite so dry as a classic 'Fino'.

So, there we have it - the Co-op in Nairn seems for many of the kinds of products that I might wish to buy, even if they stock them in their much smaller floor-space, to be considerably more expensive than our new Sainsbury's. It is probably true that I am not your typical consumer, at least not in this area, but unless you live close to the Co-op and don't have a car, then I'd say it's a clear no-contest - shop at Sainsbury's!


  1. The Co-op is very expensive everywhere.

    Its smaller shops are shockingly expensive.

    And they aren't good payers of staff either.

    They boast about not making a profit so it is a mystery why they need to charge so much.

    In my neck of the woods the Co-op seems to concentrate on smaller shops in well-heeled areas. Their shops wouldn't last a month in areas where people have to watch what they spend.

  2. To be fair to the Co-op they won't enjoy the buying power and economies of scale that the bigger multiples exploit, thus it's no wonder their prices are higher and/or they only exist in well-heeled areas - they probably couldn't exist otherwise, unless they became an Aldi/Netto style operation.

    Anyway, supermarket pricing is a misleading rip-off anyway. For example, Tesco's - where I do most of my shopping - new value pricing strategy is highly misleading. For example, they've abandoned many BOGOFs and similar offers, meaning many of the effective lower prices are in fact significantly higher for people like myself who always looked out for the three for twos, etc.

    Plus, all the offers that do appear seem to only last a few days, as opposed to several weeks previously.

    Moreover, many lines have increased in price significantly. For example one 'value' range iten went up from 14p to 27p recently, while another has went up 30% or so from 99p to £1.29. And I just buy a tiny proportion of their range (obviously).

    Of course there's been a lot about this kind of thing in the press recently, but they continue to get away with these things, so watch them very closely.

  3. Hi Pete and Stuart

    I really do wonder if we live in the same country. I have never thought of the Co-op as serving mainly, or even partly, "well-heeled" areas; in any place in the UK I have ever lived this brand has served mainly the less well-off amongst us. Of course, the Co-op may have outlets (usually smaller ones) in town centre areas with well-off people living there, but usually also with poorer people too - and it is the latter who use the Co-op, the better-off people tend to shop at M&S (if there is no Waitrose) or one of the major supermarket chains, or of course individual shops or delicatessens. where individual service is offered.

    Turning back to Nairn, neither of you seem to speak with personal knowledge of this place (please correct me if I am wrong), but here there are two Co-ops (well 3, but one is attached to a petrol station and carries a limited range with prices even higher than the main outlet, no doubt to catch passing traffic as well as that from a nearby, not notably well-off in my opinion, residential area - it is also near the main secondary school so receives many of the pupils at lunch-time).

    The main store, a medium-sized affair, is near the town centre, but with public and dedicated parking near it. The other store is in the High Street and is very cramped - it's prices are even higher, in general, than the 'main' store. Some better-off people do shop there, for convenience if they are in the town, but my observation is that it is used mainly by less well-off people, many of whom do not have cars and who live within reasonable walking distance, or who walk to do their shopping, but phone for a taxi to take them home when they have many bags. There are well-off people in Nairn, but a lot more perfectly ordinary not-too-well-off people too. It is the latter who have their shopping-trolleys full of pre-packaged high-fat, over-processed rubbish and little fresh food - this is my observation, at any rate.

    As I mentioned in my article, I doubt I am a typical consumer, but my impression is that the product range at the Co-op is not designed to appeal to wealthy people and certainly not to anyone with eclectic tastes in what they eat. My visit two days ago is unlikely to be the first of many in the future - I expect to go there only very rarely as the whole "shopping-experience" there is rather depressing and there are a couple of much more attractive shopping food-shopping places in the area as well as a very good farm-shop, both a few miles out of town, quite apart from Sainsbury's locally and Tesco in two nearby towns.

  4. Stuart, see

    for some Scottish people who found out about the Co-op's high prices before you.

    The internet is full of moans about the Co-ops high prices.

  5. Hello Pete

    Thanks for your further comment - the Co-op high-price policy is certainly not a shock or surprise to me. However, our Co-op was originally a Safeway (charging much higher prices than its nearby Inverness outlets), then briefly a Morrisons (with prices pretty similar to the Inverness outlet), then also briefly a Somnerfield with a reversion to higher prices than other supermarkets in Inverness and finally a Co-op, merely a continuance of that policy, albeit with even higher mark-ups. The recent opening here of a Sainsbury's has provided a real sea-change; Sainsbury's is perhaps a little more expensive than Tesco in Inverness or Forres, but shopping locally means one doesn't have to drive a considerable distance with high petrol prices for the privilege, so I think it evens out more or less. All supermarkets chains try and persuade one that one is getting a 'good deal', but their offers are often very complex if not downright deliberately[?] confusing and contradictory, but I think the Co-op plays particularly on captive customers, specially those without their own cars who can only get to better-value outlets with difficulty.

  6. Hi Bill and Pete

    Indeed, it's certainly not my perception that the Co-op serves mainly well-heeled customers. I know its organisation varies throughout the country, but from the bit I see it mainly operates at a tier a bit above the conveniences store format but beneath the supermarket tier, thus it tends to be a bit more expensive than the big players, but maybe a bit cheaper than the corner shops.

    And it seems to operate primarily in smaller towns/large villages where Tesco et al haven't got a presence, but where they have - in Dundee and Montrose, for example, where the Co-op did have larger stores - the Co-op has just been steamrollered out of the way by the behemoths.

    Pete, as regards the high pricing you outline, I doubt if the Co-op is any worse than the others in this regard, and it all comes down to local market conditions.

    For example, I recall when Tesco in Dundee always offered fuel at a discount to the big branded fuel retailers.

    However, over the years many have gone out of business and as a consequence Tesco is more likely to merely match the Shell, BP etc outlets.


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