Are supermarkets deliberately putting you off the cheap stuff?


tea and biscuits Chris Radburn/PA Wire/Press Association Images

A new report from Which? has revealed that we taste with our eyes - and that the right packaging can convince us that food tastes better - or worse. Its researchers discovered that we're more likely to prefer the taste of food in fancier packaging.

It also raised the question of whether supermarkets are deliberately trying to dissuade us from buying their cheaper low cost alternatives by using off-putting packaging.

The tests

The consumer group tested out chocolate chip cookies from the premium, standard, and budget ranges at Asda, Sainsbury's and Tesco. One group of testers were shown the packaging, while the others were not. The group that saw the packaging generally thought that the biscuits tasted better overall.

However, they also felt that the biscuits in the superior packaging (including a matte rather than shiny finish, or a mixture of textures such as embossing) tasted better. The group who weren't shown the packaging were less reliably able to spot the cheapest and most expensive biscuits.


The researchers then showed the packaging to a panel of experts, who suggested that the design of some budget ranges may even be designed to dissuade you from buying the product, so you'll pick the more expensive option instead.

There are certainly instances where this seems to be the case. There will be those who see a packet which draws attention to the fact that the chocolate biscuits inside have less chocolate than others and immediately move on.


However, this is a controversial notion. Clearly these items are not meant to attract the wealthy shopper. After-all the Sainsbury's basics range used to be called the Low Price range, and before that it was branded Economy - none of these titles are designed to attract the aspirational buyer. Meanwhile the blue and white stripes of the Tesco Value range became synonymous with struggle until the rebranding.

However, both ranges have been completely rebranded. The recession and the subsequent double-dip means there is money to be made from the cost-cutter. Without the glaring blue and white stripes, there is a broader appeal to Tesco's cheapest ranges. Without the Low Price labeling, Sainsbury's basics range seems designed for people who have better things to do with their money than buy overpriced biscuits.

Which? shopping expert Matt Clear says: "The continuing recession means that supermarkets have to compete even harder for your custom. One of the ways they do this is by using carefully designed packaging to influence customers' perceptions of their products. With budgets being squeezed, savvy shopping means decoding supermarkets' packaging."

But what do you think? Are they trying to put us off buying the bargains, or is packaging just there as a short-cut to enable us to work out which are the most expensive products? Let us know in the comments.

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