Which? and Government claim credit for UKMA campaign

Both the Consumers’ Association (aka Which?) and the Government’s Business Department have claimed the credit for the success of their campaign to persuade supermarkets to price goods transparently.  But who actually started the campaign? and is it enough?
Which? have today issued a press release claiming that as a result of their pressure, all the major supermarkets have now agreed to “making their pricing clearer and simpler for shoppers.”  By this they mean that 6 out of the 10 big supermarket chains ” have agreed to include the ‘unit price’ on promotions for multi-buys of the same item.”  Translated, this means that the price per kilogram or litre will be shown prominently on shelf labels so that you can tell whether it really is cheaper to buy, say,  six tins of tomatoes individually or as a six-pack.

If this turns out to be true, then obviously it is welcome.  UKMA has been banging on about it for several years, and regular readers of MetricViews may recall our article two years ago  “Which? sees the light and Panorama joins in”.

However, the flaw in this modest victory over the supermarkets is that public understanding of “unit pricing” is limited.  In 2008, in response to the consultation by the former National Weights and Measures Laboratory on the deregulation of package sizes, UKMA wrote: “… we are concerned that deregulation of package sizes should be accompanied by a campaign of public education to help consumers to understand better the concept of “unit pricing”.  We think that, as part of such a campaign, shops should be required to display prominently explanatory information about unit pricing.”

Sadly, this point does not seem to have been addressed.

It is also interesting that the Government Minister, Lib Dem Jo Swinson,  is quoted as saying: “We will now look at the current legislation to see if it’s preventing supermarkets from making further improvements.’

UKMA has already told the government what changes are needed, and they can also be read in the article referred to above.  For convenience, MetricViews reproduces them below:

“What is needed is three things:

  1. Changes in the law to close the loopholes described above.  This should include
    1. a requirement that the unit price should always be shown (even if goods are also priced as special offers, “bogofs”, bulk buys, countable produce etc).
    2. The unit price should be easily legible (perhaps a minimum font size) and not obscured by promotional labels
    3. The “de minimis” floorspace (below which shops do not need to show unit prices) should be lowered from 280 m2 to, say, 100 m2.  This would still exempt most small corner shops but would catch medium size stores of the national chains such as “Tesco Metro”.
  2. More rigorous enforcement of the law.  This may require increased resources initially but crucially would require a temporary re-ordering of priorities.  Trading Standards Officers sometimes justify their turning a blind eye to transgressions by pleading that they are too busy dealing with financial frauds and dodgy second-hand car dealers.  Yet a few high profile prosecutions would send a signal that routine flouting of the law would no longer be condoned, and transgressors would soon come into line.  In the language of policing, “zero tolerance.”
  3. A campaign of public education.  One of the justifications for removing the system of “prescribed quantities” (PQs) in 2009 (the requirement to package goods in fixed sizes such as multiples of 227 g for honey or 125 g for butter) was that consumers no longer needed this form of protection since they could judge value for money by comparing the unit price. Yet as the NCC report showed, most people are unable to use unit pricing.  Such a campaign should properly be financed from the Business Department’s budget (since they abolished the PQs), but consumer groups and the media also have a role to play.”

MetricViews looks forward to these proposals being enacted, and no doubt the credit will again be claimed by Which?/Panorama/BIS.  We shall not mind too much as long as they eventually get it right, but MV readers will know where they read it first.

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7 Responses to Which? and Government claim credit for UKMA campaign

  1. BrianAC says:

    I am totally baffled as to why shoppers do not understand unit pricing.
    It is long overdue on such things as 'punnets' and packs of 4 or 6 in a bag.
    My gripes are still -
    1) Dual pricing, does anyone still need the vegetables in Tesco super stores to be priced per lb? It seems this is confined to loose fresh vegetables only, if the shoppers need that information then they are in bad shape for the rest of the shopping. It makes no sense except as a con trick; it almost caught me some months ago.
    2) Dual describing anything, I see no benefit from having the same information twice. If we ever dual labelled a drawing in school we would be told "you cannot give the same dimension in two different forms." Each quantity has its own tolerance, two together don't go. That includes the new EU ruling on calories and joules dualing.
    3) Units for pricing should be consistent (with at the very least for the SAME items in the SAME store). To me that is the kilogram, litre and metre. A lot of items are per 100g, then elsewhere on the same or adjacent shelf the same thing per kg. Yes, I know it is simple, but this is high pressure shopping, not sitting in front of the computer. My big one though is in bottled wine priced by the 75cl (bottles size) and again on the same shelf 3l boxed wine priced by the litre. That is wrong and a bit more difficult to work out along with the % alcohol to get the best alcohol to price ratio.
    4) Now of course the real curse, TV's, monitors and all things of the display type in inches. OMG how I hate that, super high in technology and super low in mentality.

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  2. Mary says:

    There are still examples where similar products have unit prices based on different information, e.g. chocolate biscuit type snacks including those sold in multipacks, the unit price might be shown as: per 100 grams or per bar

    Mayonnaise and salad cream is another example, where similar products have unit prices based on different information; the unit price for one may be per 100 g whereas for the other it could be per 100 ml.
    When I talked about this last example at a Sainsbury's store, the member of the Customer Service Team also didn't know the different densities of these products!
    [Later I looked them up]

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  3. BrianAC says:

    The problem with semi liquids being in either ml or g, is when does a 'liquid' become thick enough to be classed classed as a 'solid'?
    Things like cook-in sauces are part liquid, part solid. It is not practicable to have each listed seperately. The best we could hope for is consistancey of unit pricing in the same store, which in turn ought to be the same as on the product, which itself must be consistant ... which can only be controlled by regulation.
    Knowing the sg of the liquid part does not help as it would need to be relative to the sg of the solid part too!
    That one, in all probability could never be resolved.

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  4. Martin Vlietstra says:

    While dual pricing can in the short term remove confusion, in the long term it will also increase confusion. For example, I saw some carrots in Tesco the other day that were priced at 40p/lb or 89p/kg. 40p/lb is equivalent to 88.36 p/kg while 89p/kg is equivalent to 40.29p/lb. Which is the true price? I believe that where dual prices are shown, the converted price should display one decimal place more than reference price – in this case, the carrots should be priced at 40.3p/lb or 89p/kg. In this way the shopper will know which price is being entered into the machine.

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  5. Richard Ational says:

    Per unit pricing is to be applauded but, go into Tesco (and other supermarkets) and try to buy loose olives by weight. Answer is, you can't. They're priced and sold only by the small or large pot. However, pre-packaged olives are priced and sold by weight, sometimes dry weight, sometimes not. Which ever way you look at it the situation can only have been designed to prevent the consumer from making a comparison.

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  6. John Steele says:

    Martin,

    In the US, loose produce has to be weighed in pounds, but our receipt would show a line item like:
    Bananas 1.41 lb @$0.56/lb $0.76.
    Do your receipts show the measured weight and extension of the price/unit? Granted, you wouldn't know until checkout, but if you regularly shop at the store, you would know what their practice is.

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  7. derekp says:

    @John Steele
    From the receipt of my last visit to Sainsbury's:
    mushrm white closd 0.095 kg @ £2.68/ kg £0.25
    (Yes - we only buy mushrooms for one meal at a time)

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