How to shop for fruit in the cost of living crisis

Whether it’s Costa Rican bananas, South African grapes, Mediterranean oranges or French pears, getting your five-a-day is a pinch to the purse.

Shopping for fruit can sometimes feel like a luxury, as the cost of living crisis has pushed the UK’s inflation rates to some of the highest in more than 40 years.

Global economic shocks and instability has seen UK inflation more than quadruple from 1.74% five years ago to 7.92% in 2022, according to statistics from the World Bank.

As a consequence, 85% of people are making changes to save money on food as a result of the cost of living crisis, a recent survey from consumer choice association Which? showed.

Since households have been forced to tighten purse strings, South West Londoner has pulled together a price comparison of everyday fruits across three of the major supermarkets in the area.

A quick look at the price of different apple types and Fairtrade bananas at Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose revealed that the favourite supermarket of the middle class often comes out on top for lower priced fruit.

Whether buying loose apples or packets of six, Waitrose turns out at the best value (Figure 1).

The store not known for its low prices sells a packet of six pink lady apples for £3, breaking down to 50p per apple; a better deal than Sainsbury’s or Tesco, which sells a packet of six for £3.20.

Tesco, which markets itself on ‘Low Everyday Prices’, turns out to be the least affordable option in these two fruit categories.

For shoppers in south west London looking to make these savings, they have a choice of some 30 Waitrose or Little Waitrose stores, from locations in Victoria to Kingston to Clapham.

While Tesco and Sainsbury’s are widely regarded to promote affordable prices, the retailers have come under fire amid accusations they have been employing potentially ‘dodgy tactics’ with loyalty card pricing, according to an investigation by Which? in September.

The retailers rejected the claims and said price changes were in line with inflation.

But Which? found that on some items, like branded coffee or condiments, Tesco and Sainsbury’s were inflating regular prices so that the promotions unlocked by loyalty card membership – Clubcard or Nectar cards – appear better than they really are.

These discount schemes are rarely applied to fruit or vegetables, despite charities and health groups pushing for supermarkets to better support customers in making healthy living choices.

The UK’s favourite fruit is said to be the banana. It is filling, rich in potassium and regularly lauded by doctors, health experts and sports professionals as the ideal on-the-go healthy snack.

According to South West Londoner’s data analysis, shoppers can save nearly 10p by buying bananas at Waitrose. 

An Essential Waitrose single Fairtrade banana costs between 17 to 19p dependent on weight (Figure 2). 

Despite the savings to be made for shoppers, the low pricing of fruit and vegetables leaves other businesses, like independent greengrocers, battling to stay in the market. 

One of these is P Cooper & Sons, a 70-year-old family-run fruit and vegetable shop in Twickenham.

“I don’t think supermarkets should be able to sell things at a loss,” said manager John Cooper.

“It is not fair game for everyone. We can’t sell things at a loss, we’re a one man band.

“Their prices are artificial. They’re losing money to get you in the shop.

“You can’t grow a banana and get it from Costa Rica to England for 17 pence. It’s more or less impossible.”

P Cooper & Sons greengrocer in Twickenham.
FAMILY RUN GREENGROCERS: Cooper & Sons is based on Twickenham’s King Street

Cooper sells his bananas at £1.65 a kilo, about 55p more than Waitrose and supports his argument that supermarkets disregard the real worth of items.

Early each morning, Cooper visits wholesale markets across the city from Western International Market in Hounslow to New Covent Garden Market, to buy the best quality produce which he says puts his items on a shelf above supermarket groceries.

At the moment Cooper’s is selling a mixture of English and French apples – he puts the English Cox’s at the front, priced at five for £2.50 – higher than the three supermarket prices.

He added: “We don’t keep it in warehouses for weeks on end like they do.

“We’re giving the farmers their money, and the supermarkets are not. So it’s a moral thing isn’t it.”

Yet as customers and businesses feel the pinch, having the luxury to choose quality groceries will continue to come at a higher price for all.

In response to questions about the low price of their Fairtrade banana, Waitrose said: “We have excellent relationships with our growers, paying a fair price to farmers and working hard to keep our prices as low as possible.” 

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