Making ends meat: Australians can save up to $20 a kg by changing where they shop

<span>‘Coles and Woolworths don’t have this meat,’ says David, shopping at the Queen Victoria Market with Jessica.</span><span>Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian</span>
‘Coles and Woolworths don’t have this meat,’ says David, shopping at the Queen Victoria Market with Jessica.Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

People could save up to $20 a kg if they purchased their meat from markets or grocery stores rather than the big two supermarkets, a purchasing test by Guardian Australia has revealed.

We recently bought a range of cuts and seafood in Melbourne, all on the same day, from Queen Victoria Market, Famous Halal Quality Meat & Groceries in Footscray, independent Peter’s Meats in Brunswick and nearby Woolworths and Coles supermarkets in Barkly Square.

Starting with lamb cutlets, the cheapest was Famous Halal Quality Meat & Groceries, where they cost $19.99 a kg. Next was Queen Victoria Market, where stalls had lamb cutlets priced between $27.99 and $29.99. The same product was $35.00 a kg at Coles on special, down from the regular price of $43.00, which was the same as Woolworths. Peter’s Meats was $39.00.

The average household spends $189 a week on groceries – or $9,828 a year – according to research from Finder. Some Australians are avoiding red meat to save money during the cost-of-living crisis, while others have stopped eating fish. But buying products at the local market could also help, our shopping trip on a recent Thursday suggests.

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As part of our search, we also purchased five T-bone steaks (except at Famous Halal Quality Meat & Groceries, which does not carry them). The market was the cheapest at $22.99 a kg, while Woolworths, Coles and Peter’s Meats were $30 a kg.

Chicken breast bucked the trend by coming in at least 50 cents cheaper at the supermarkets – costing $14 a kg at both Woolworths and Coles. This was followed by Peter’s Meats ($14.50), Famous Halal Quality Meat & Groceries ($15.50) and the markets ($15.99).

Related: At Sydney’s fruit and veg market, buying in bulk costs barely 30% of supermarket prices

We also checked the price of salmon where it was available, finding the cheapest at Queen Victoria Market at $35 a kilo, followed by Woolworths and Coles both at $42.

Felicity shops at the markets in central Melbourne at least once a fortnight. She says it’s convenient because she lives close by and it saves her money.

“I’ve got my standards – at the chicken place I get chicken schnitzels and I go to my beef man, and I get a piece of porterhouse steak and mid loin chops, and I go to the bacon man and get the bacon offcuts,” she said.

Felicity estimates she saves hundreds of dollars a year and she prefers the cuts at Queen Victoria Market.

“My mid loin chops are $17 a kilo and in the supermarkets you’re looking at $25 at least. The porterhouse here is $25 a kilo, but you’re looking at at least $30 to $40 a kilo [at the supermarkets] and the bacon is probably the same. But I know if I get packaged bacon it’s full of water – this is better quality.”

Shopping at the markets is not always about the price. Jessica and David spend about $300 a week at the markets and insist the variety and quality is better. They started shopping there 18 months ago.

“Coles and Woolworths don’t have this meat,” David says. “Honestly, it probably costs the same, but the quality is not as good.”

Jessica says when they buy steak, they check the marbling and thickness to get the best quality. “When you buy meat from here, it’ll last us the week. We’re eating it this time next week and it’s still fresh and fine,” she says.

Coles and Woolworths rejected the suggestion their products were more expensive – with a Coles spokesperson calling Guardian Australia’s purchasing test a “highly-selective comparison”. “It doesn’t reflect the broader range of meat prices in the market nor does it represent the wide range of independent retailers or butchers,” they said.

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“There are many factors which affect the price of products at the checkout – including season, specifications, supplier costs, packaging or transport costs – and we continuously work hard with our suppliers to provide high-quality meat at great value.”

A Woolworths spokesperson said it was “difficult to make a like-for-like” comparison between supermarkets and meat vendors who sell through public marketplaces like the Queen Victoria Market and have different business models and customer offerings”.

“The products sold across retailers can be sourced differently – Woolworths purchases premium cattle and lamb to a very tight quality specification, with its beef being independently certified through the Meat Standards Australia program.

“We offer consistency to our customers week in, week out - so they know they will always find the same cuts, with competitive pricing and great quality.”

Food literacy advocate Alice Zaslavsky – normally better known for her love of vegetables – argues consumers are paying for convenience.

“The premium put on convenience is transferred onto the consumer,” she says. “You’ve got a Coles around the corner. You don’t have much time, it is something you pay for.”

Zaslavsky buys her meat from her local market but has also used Wolki Farm, which ships frozen grass-fed meats from Albury.

Many consumers will look at factors other than price, she says. Knowing meat is ethically sourced is a big issue for some.

“There are other ways of getting meat. For example, Discovered Wild Foods is a Victorian business and we’ve got a huge problem in Victoria with feral deer. These guys are going out and shooting the deer and selling that meat.

Related: Groceries cost the same at Coles and Woolworths. Farmers say they’re not trying to compete

“So, instead of expecting to just cook beef and chicken and lamb, we could be extending ourselves to cook venison and roux, because those are feral animals eating up our landscape.”

Sarah Megginson, a personal finance expert at Finder, says Australians who plan their weekly shop pay less overall.

“We know that the more ad-hoc and unplanned you are, the more you are likely to spend,” she says. “For instance, if you pop into the supermarket three or four times a week when you need to top up your groceries, you’re much more likely to spend more than if you do one big weekly shop.”

Megginson says “planning your shopping trips with a list can be a powerful tool to avoid impulse buys and stick to what you truly need”.

Comment was sought from Famous Halal Quality Meat & Groceries and Peter’s Meats.

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