And the cheapest supermarket in Utrecht is…

We all want to spend the least amount of money possible while we do our grocery shopping, right? But it is not always the easiest task. You are bounded by what are the closest supermarkets, prices change all the time, and just one supermarket might have some products that are cheaper and some that are more expensive, when compared to others. To complicate things further, since lots of times supermarkets are franchises (they use the main house name and follow some rules, but each store is run independently and can decide on some prices), the prices can vary across stores of the same chain; usually things will be more expensive outside of the city, where competition is less fierce. On top of this, sometimes the absolute cheapest things are of really terrible quality, so, if you are like me and want to have a good price-quality balance, it can really be puzzling.

Chain supermarkets, like Jumbo and Albert Heijn, are nice because you can buy all your food in one go, both the fresh food, like meat and vegetables, and the dried and canned food, like rice and tomato. You can also find the brands you are used to. So, while markets and Turkish shops are sometimes better and, oftentimes, cheaper options, we will compare some chain supermarkets so you can make an informed decision the next time you have to decide where to go!

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How can we compare supermarket prices?

When we compare prices across supermarkets, the easiest strategy is to compare branded products of the same size and type, for example how much a 33cl. can of Pepsi costs, and this can be a good indicator of how supermarkets fare against each other. However, there are a few caveats that we must look at. Firstly, most chains have the same big brand suppliers, and, since these are the products that are easiest to compare, they might cost the same across all stores where they are placed. Secondly, because not all chains, or even stores, sell the same branded products, it can get hard to compare them. For example, in one store you might find only Coke, and on another only Pepsi.

Finally, because these are usually the cheapest, the most interesting and difficult products to compare are house brands. This is hard for several reasons: since the producers and suppliers of house brands are usually different across chains, the quality and cost of production is different and how it translated into the final price is very unpredictable,  and it can also depend on how much the big brands are priced. For example, if there is a house branded rice and a rice of a big brand, even if the house brand is much cheaper for the supermarket, they cannot put their price much distinct from the big brand one, since people would either only buy the cheapest one because of that, or not buy it all because they would think it is of very bad quality. However, all chains face this problem and solve it in the same way, but my point is that it is very hard to assess the value of these sort of products.

Something that makes it extra hard to access how products from house brands compare between chains relates with what role these products play compared with big brand products, and there are three main roles. The first is to have one house brand and sensibly one alternative house product for each product, which is usually of medium quality, and is what happens, for example, at Jumbo (mostly) and Plus. You will find one Jumbo or Plus alternative to a specific type of rice, and by its side you will find the branded alternatives.

The second is to have more than one house brand for each product, of different quantities. This is what happens for example in Albert Heijn, where you find AH Basic products, normal AH products, and AH Excellent products. Although not all products have AH produce all three alternatives, many products will have at least two house options of different qualities, next to branded products. One example of a product that has all of them in AH is pizza. In Jumbo there are also some products that have two of them in Jumbo brand, and, looking at the difference in price, we assume that there are also two levels of quality, since it is not straightforward from the marketing.

The third is to have almost exclusively house products, like in Lidl, or unknown brands, like Aldi. These products tend to be a bit more expensive than medium quality house brands in other chains, because they are the only ones on sale, but also because of this they are usually of better quality.

This problem between chains is also very presents in fresh fruits, vegetables and meat, which might have different origins and there might be more than one option for each product.

There are particular ways in which you can get better prices from time to time: look at the promotions, which here are called “acties” or “aanbieding”. And in AH you can use your Bonus card to have those discounts.

This can be a good guideline for you if you wish to compare products and prices the next time you go shopping. We will give a small example to try to get an idea about which one, between Jumbo, Albert Heijn and Plus, is the best bet!

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Let’s compare prices!!

We will compare house and branded products from different chain stores that can be found around the center of Utrecht, but we will look at the online prices (these prices were consulted on 06/01/2018). Of course we can’t compare all of them in store, so this is just a taste, and prices can vary per store! We will keep in mind that, for the house brands, we will use the middle quality brand in the case of Albert Heijn, an in Jumbo as well when applicable. For the fresh vegetables, fruits and meat, we will always choose the cheapest one available. We will not compare Lidl and Alsi because their prices are not online.

Let’s look at the following shopping list:

  • 1L Coke
  • Spaghetti
  • 6 medium eggs
  • 1Kg Tomato
  • 1 Lettuce
  • 1 Loaf Brown Bread
  • Frozen 4 Cheese pizza
  • 1L Skimmed Milk (fridge)
  • 1kg Chicken Breast

For the spaghetti, we will look at the house brand and at “Grand’Itallia” as an example of a branded product. For the 4 Cheese pizza, we will do the same but use “Casa di Mama”.

The coke costs 1,56€ in Jumbo, and 1,62€ both in AH and Plus.

The house brand spaghetti costs 0,61€, 0,74€ and 0,7€ in Jumbo, AH and Plus, respectively. From “Grand’Itallia”, it costs 1,13 in the first, and 1,2€ in the last two.

Now for a fresh salad. The kilo of tomatoes costs 2,16€, 2,18€ and 2,38, in the same order. The lettuce costs 0,95€ in the first, and 0,99€ in the last two.

For your breakfast, the loaf of bruin bread costs 1,09€ in AH, and 1€ in the other two, and the liter of skimmed milk costs 1,04€ in Jumbo, 1,07€ in AH and 1,06€ in Plus.

If you like that quick frozen pizza, this is for you. In the house brand, it costs 1,99€ both in Jumbo and Plus, and 2,15 in AH, whereas for the one from “Casa di Mama” costs 2,72€ in Jumbo, and 2,89€ in the other two.

Finally, for you dinner with friends, the cheapest kilo of chicken costs 8,49€ in Jumbo, 7,76€ in AH and 7,5€ in Plus.

The total shopping list would have cost you 23,2€ in Jumbo, 23,54€ in AH, and 22,98€ in Plus.

So, what is the cheapest supermarket??

If you look at how the prices of the products compare individually, Jumbo did better in all fronts. Albert Heijn seems to be consistently the most expensive supermarket. Plus seems to fluctuate between both, being sometimes as cheap as Jumbo, and sometimes as expensive as AH, only beating both on the meat.

It is very interesting though that the cheapest in the final bill was Plus. The key is the price difference in the meat, so beware of how supermarkets compensate the lower prices in some products on other products!

So, now you have some objective comparisons between these supermarkets. If I am being honest, this matches my own experience with these supermarkets, and I still believe that Jumbo is a good choice, but mixing them if you can is of course the best.

If you want other tips to save money during your stay, check out Robin’s article.

What do you find to be the best supermarket in Utrecht? Do you agree that Jumbo is the overall cheapest supermarket? Do you have other tips to compare prices between supermarkets? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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