The real lesson from Marmitegate - and it'll save you a fortune
Everyone stop panicking: the spat between Tesco and Unilever has ended, some of our favourite brands are back on the shelves, and the Great Marmite Crisis of 2016 is over. It means, for the time being at least, die hard fans of the brands can go back to their old shopping habits. Unless, of course, they want to try something that tastes just as good - or better - for a fraction of the price.
There was genuine panic when we went undercover in Britain's supermarkets. Marmite shelves were cleared, not just in Tesco but in other supermarkets too, and almost every trolley contained at least one Unilever favourite 'just in case'.
It's not surprising: these are some of the brands we are most loyal to, and inspire a real depth of feeling. However, AOL Money set out to explore whether this loyalty is justified, and whether the brands are really worth spending so much more on.
What we discovered was the real lessons from Marmitegate - and a lesson that could save us all a fortune.
We assembled a panel of die hard fans of the brands, and asked them to taste their Unilever favourite alongside the supermarket generics.
This was not a taste test pitting the brands against the supermarket's high end offerings. For a fair comparison, we pitted them against the everyday supermarket own brand alternatives - in a blind test. In each case we used the brand, alongside the generic version from Aldi, Lidl, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda.
Naturally, when they were faced with their rows of cups of tea, slices of toast and pots of mayonnaise, the panel was highly skeptical. There were plenty of comments like: "I've tried plenty of horrible tea at other people's houses. I already know I only like PG Tips," "Look at this mayonnaise, you can tell it's not Hellmanns, that would just destroy a perfectly good sandwich', and "I love Marmite, but I know I'm going to hate this."
After the tests, however, their world had changed forever. Phrases like; 'I can't believe that." "Are you sure you didn't muddle them up?" and "Good God, I'm going to have to start buying that instead" were bandied about.
And that's before we revealed how much money they were going to save by switching.
The PG Tips fans were very clear about why they love the brand. They don't have any patience for posh teas, floral flavours and herbal nonsense: they want a "proper cup of tea". It means our result differed from some of the others, including Good Housekeeping, which have scored things like the Aldi brand higher for the quality of the 'tea flavour'.
1. Asda Everyday Teabags 5/5 "I could definitely drink that every day. That's the PG Tips."
2. Tesco Original Medium Strength Tea 4/5 "That's almost as good as the winner. It's got a good depth of flavour."
3. PG Tips 3/5 "I like it, but it has a bit of a soapy aftertaste."
4. Lidl Knightsbridge Red Label Tea Bags 2/5 "There's no depth of flavour to this one. You've made it strong but it tastes weak."
5. Sainsbury's Fair Trade Red Label 2/5 "I can hardly taste this is tea at all, just the milk and the hot water."
6. Aldi Diplomat Red Label 1/5 "This is a bit fancy. It's not a proper 'work tea', you can taste the tea leaves. I don't like that kind of tea."
What was striking about the results here was that the differences were very subtle - so much so that they had to be tasted on their own in order to detect the differences. It means that if you only tend to use mayonnaise mixed in with other things, you may prefer to buy just on price. However, after much deliberation our Hellmanns fans ranked them in order.
1. Asda Real Mayonnaise 4/5 "You can taste the eggs first, then the sharpness, and then the creaminess. It almost tastes like home-made mayo."
2. Lidl Batts Real Mayonnaise 3.5/5 "This one looks nice and glossy, and you can definitely taste the eggs before you get the acidity. It's almost as good as the winner."
3. Aldi Bramwell's Real Mayonnaise 3/5 "It's very creamy, you get a nice stab of vinegar and then the taste disappears. I like that."
4. Hellmanns 2/5 "You get the same egg and sharpness, but the sharpness is harsher, so it's not very nice."
5. Mayonnaise by Sainsbury's 1.5/5 "This one is quite different to the others. It has a very vinegary finish."
6. Tesco Mayonnaise 1/5 "You can't taste the eggs, so it feels a bit synthetic. I don't like that at all."
The yeast extract
Only two supermarkets do their own brand here. Sainsbury's has a low salt version, which while healthier wasn't included in the test on the grounds it wasn't comparing apples with apples - or indeed yeast extract with yeast extract.
1. Marmite 4/5 "This looks like Marmite, and tastes like it. It's sharp and salty. It's definitely Marmite."
2. Tesco Yeast Extract 3.5/5 "Oh hang on, this could be the Marmite. It isn't quite as strong, but it's not very different."
3. Asda Yeast Extract 1/5 "This is just dark and horrible. It tastes grim. Do I have to finish this?"
The incredible savings
Then we revealed the price.
The cheapest teas we tested were the Aldi and Lidl brands - both at £1.55 for 160 bags. The Asda winner cost £1.79 and the Tesco runner up £1.95. However, PG Tips costs £4.25.
Given that our testers drink an average of 1,456 cups of tea a year, that's just over 9 boxes. By switching from PG Tips to Asda they will save £22.14 a year. If they switched to Lidl, they'd save £24.30 a year.
The mayonnaise all came in slightly different sizes, so we calculated the cost of 500ml. The cheapest overall was Aldi, at the equivalent of 68p. The Asda winner cost the equivalent of 80p. Tesco and Lidl were mid-range at 79p and 75p respectively, and Sainsbury's cost £1. Hellmanns, meanwhile, cost £2.25.
Assuming we get through a jar in a month, switching from Hellmanns to Asda would save £17.40 a year, and switching to Aldi would save £18.84.
The Marmite cost £2.35 for 250g, the Asda Yeast Extract £1.96 for the equivalent amount, and Tesco £1.94. Assuming a jar every two months, switching from Marmite to Tesco would save £2.46 a year. It's a less impressive saving, but a saving never the less.
If you switched all three, you'd save £45.60 a year. The prices convinced the panel, who all said they would switch their tea and mayonnaise. Only Marmite stayed on the shopping list, but the fans said they were less keen to go panic shopping now they knew there was an alternative that tastes strikingly similar and costs less.
Of course, this is only the beginning. If you can save so much by just switching from three brands to the supermarket generics, just think what you could save by switching everything.
Shopping: when spending more isn't always better
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