Milk pricing – is there method in the supermarket muddle?

The pricing of milk should be simple and clear, for milk is a staple item in every household. In reality, confusion often reigns.

A recent check on prices of semi-skimmed milk in and around London N10 revealed the following:

M & S               4 pints    £1.53    (unit price 67.3 p/L)

Tesco               4 pints    £1.53

Morrisons          4 pints    £1.53

Sainsbury’s        4 pints    £1.53

Corner shop       2 litres    £1.19    (unit price 59.5 p/L)

Iceland             4 pints    £1.00    (unit price 44.0 p/L)

Costco           4 x 2 litres  £3.19    (unit price 39.9 p/L)

Now we are not suggesting that price-fixing is occurring among the major supermarkets – this was investigated by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) a short time ago, and heavy fines were imposed. But one of our readers asks if the choice of a 2.272 litre container for fresh milk by most supermarket chains is intended to confuse. Tim Bentley writes:

“The situation regarding the size of milk packaging in supermarkets is getting more ludicrous by the day. There has been a huge growth in the choice of different types of milk on offer in recent years and they are all in metric size containers, usually 500 mL, 1, 2 or 3 litre sizes. All that is now left in 1, 2, 4 or 6 pint containers are the supermarkets own brands of fresh milk. The situation makes price comparison much more difficult for consumers who have to study the very small price comparison labels which most people don’t bother to read.

I think the big five supermarkets, Tesco, Asda, Sainsburys, Morrisons and Co-op should agree to all use metric containers by a certain date to clear this matter up once and for all. Failing that, I wonder if in the public interest, the OFT could require them to do so?”

The milk displays in Sainsbury’s at Muswell Hill support Tim’s views. Milk is seldom placed so that it matches the corresponding price label. To find out a unit price, it is often necessary to check twenty or more shelf labels, and then, to get hold of that item, trawl through the milk itself, checking the bar codes if in doubt. How many busy shoppers have time for this? Many will grab four pints of semi-skimmed or whatever, without realising how expensive it is in comparison to that of some other suppliers.

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11 Responses to Milk pricing – is there method in the supermarket muddle?

  1. Weeble says:

    I have noticed that milk in supermarkets tends to have a big number and no units on the front. The number will be the whole number of pints. On the side it will have the measurement in litres and then in pints. Is the lack of unit on the front some sort of trick to get around the requirement that the most prominent measurement should be metric? Can they claim it's just a decoration or part of the name or something, rather than an imperial measurement?

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  2. Martin Vlietstra says:

    Milk is one of the few exceptions where metric units need not be the principal units - but only in RETURNABLE containers. If anybody wants to cause a spot of bother, take your empty 1, 2, 4 or 6 pint milk containers to wherever you bought them and ask them where they can be deposited.

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  3. A says:

    I have noticed that Morrisons sell their own brand 1.136 L (2 pint) milk bottles for less than the branded 1 litre milk bottles. A pricing difference of around 20 p for a volume difference of 0.136 L!

    The use of pints for liquids in shops seems to be only unique to own brand milk (as far as I have noticed). None of the brand companies use pints for milk, they all use metric quantities. Yet own brand juices are labelled in metric units only, just like other brands. A plastic bottle is a plastic bottle, makes no difference what it is filled with! This raises the question as to why own brands insist on using pints.

    One exception I know is Farmfoods which sells its own brand 2 L milk bottles for £1. They are labelled 2 L but the bottle itself has a marker in litres and pints. This may have something to do with the packaging manufacturer rather than Farmfoods.

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  4. Delta says:

    I may be taking it too far, but if I am shopping and I can't find any milk in a nice rounded metric container I just don't buy milk.

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  5. Mark Preston says:

    I'm the same, I look out for metric packages, one supermarket selling metric only is the Dutch owned Spar.

    It's even odder with own brand milks because own brand filtered milk, own brand organic milk, own brand soya milk, own brand goats milk, own brand flavoured milk etc are all sold in 1 litre packages !!

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  6. Shaun says:

    I was in Northern Ireland last summer and I noticed that althuogh one pint bottles of milk are still available own brand bottle larger than a pint are in multiples of one litre. I also noticed that own brand bottles say produced in Northern Ireland on them. Could this be an influence from the Republic? If large bottle have already been converted why not introduce a 500ml bottle. A half litre bottle would be in a round metric size and could create more reasons to buy a one litre bottle.

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  7. Pints of milk and pints of beer were accepted as such an ingrained part of British culture that they should not be subject to the metrication rules.

    I can't understand why anybody should prefer to buy supermarket milk by the litre rather than pint when the price per unit is usually higher that way.

    [Richard Copus appears to have misunderstood the meaning of "unit price". It is of course the "price per litre", and it will be the same whatever the size of the carton. The unit price enables the shopper to compare value for money for different sizes of package. Unfortunately, the failure of the Government to publicise this useful information has meant that many shoppers are unaware of it. - Editor]

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  8. Michael Glass says:

    Surely the consumers association in the UK should take up this matter, as selling milk in both pints and litres is totally confusing for the consumer. It's time to ditch the pint and simply package and sell milk in rational sizes based on the litre.

    In Australia, milk and cream is sold in 300ml, 600ml, 1 litre, 2 litre and 3 litre containers. We haven't dealt with pints since the 1970s.

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  9. Michael Glass says:

    It's now August 2016, and when I checked the 'My Supermarket' website I noticed that the branded milk is sold by the litre but the own brand milk is almost always sold by the pint. Aldi, for instance, sells its own brand of milk in pint based containers.

    However, there are exceptions. Tesco Pure Fresh Whole milk is sold in 1 and 2 litre containers and so is Sainsbury's British Filtered Whole Milk. Waitress and Ocado also sell Waitrose Duchy Organic Fresh Full Cream Ayrshire Milk in 750 ml containers.

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  10. Jackthesmilingblack says:

    In Japan where I usually reside, milk is sold in one-litre waxed paper containers. In Malaysia where I currently find myself, milk is retailed in the same type , and size containers.
    But more importantly, whisky is sold in one-litre glass bottles. Unofficial channels, naturally.

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  11. Gordon says:

    In Scotland Aldi only sells milk by the litre and has done so for a number of years.

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