It’s the question we all want to know the answer to ─ what is the cheapest supermarket in the UK? With the price of food and drink rising at a rate of around 20% in the first part of 2023, it’s no wonder that more and more people are looking for a way to cut the cost of their food shopping.
There is money to be saved if you know where to shop. In this article, we are going to be looking at where you can find better prices for your weekly shop to help you save money, but also look at things to consider when looking for the best value. It may not just be the case that the cheapest price is the best option for you.
First of all, though, let’s discuss exactly how we are going to find out which UK supermarket is the cheapest.
There are plenty of different ways to go about this, so I thought it was important to show my working before I shared my results.
It would be impossible to predict exactly what each reader buys every week, so I thought I would prepare what I deem to be a general family shopping list, covering enough bases so that you have ingredients to create some meals from scratch, as well as have some quicker convenience meals for those nights when time is of the essence! Here’s my generic family weekly shopping list:
To purchase the shopping list above, always buying the cheapest available options at the time of writing, here is what it would cost at the leading UK supermarkets:
The results won’t surprise you – Aldi and Lidl are generally known as the cheapest supermarkets to shop at. They are actively targeting that side of the market, and time and time again they come out on top of studies like this – their products are cheaper.
There are a few caveats that we need to add here – first of all, this is based purely on the very specific shopping list above, and secondly that prices change all the time, especially with new special offers being introduced on a weekly basis. In fact, between writing and publishing this article, the prices will probably be out of date.
However, that doesn’t mean that the findings should be dismissed ─ the general pattern of how much you can expect to pay at certain supermarkets will stay the same even after new offers and price changes are taken into account. Aldi and Lidl will come out as the cheapest supermarkets in the UK.
However, I think it does need a bit more analysis, so let’s take a look.
So we know that Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest supermarkets, but which products are the difference makers? Let’s take a look at the different categories:
This is where Aldi and Lidl really excel in terms of offering cheaper prices. These are the totals for fruit and veg at the various supermarkets:
There is quite the split here ─ M&S is around 65% more expensive than Lidl, which is to be expected, but even Tesco is about 25% more expensive for this fruit and veg list.
One of the big reasons for Aldi and Lidl getting cheaper fruit and veg is that it all comes pre-packaged, meaning there is less food waste and less need for employees to check the produce on the shelves ─ removing anything that is bruised or unsellable. This helps them keep prices down, and enables them to have special weekly offers (Super Six at Aldi and Pick of the Week at Lidl).
One of the big factors in Lidl coming out cheapest was that cucumbers and grapes were both part of the Pick Of The Week offer when this research was done ─ this won’t always be the case, but other products will take their place. Sometimes it’s just the luck of the draw as to whether the fresh food that you want is on offer.
There is less of a gap between the supermarkets when it comes to buying our meat selection:
So while there is a similar percentage gap between the cheapest (Aldi) and the most expensive (M&S), the mid-range supermarkets compare more favourably with the cheaper ones for meat. Tesco and Sainsbury’s are only around 10%-15% more expensive than Aldi and Lidl.
Here we see that the gap between the cheapest and the most expensive narrowing, with the others bunching up in the middle:
Still around 10% difference between the cheapest and the ‘main group’ of supermarkets ─ Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.
With many supermarkets having a bigger range of ‘own brand’ products in this section, the prices are yet again bunched up.
You’ll have noticed that Asda and Sainsbury’s have managed to undercut Aldi here (for the specific products that we are looking at) and the most expensive being under 30% more than the cheapest.
Most of the supermarkets are within £1 of the rest in the frozen food category. To be fair, we haven’t selected too many products in this section, which is probably detrimental to Iceland, who are frozen food specialists. I’m sure if we had a larger list here, Iceland would push the cheaper options as they have a much wider variety of products.
Again, there isn’t a great deal between the supermarkets for this ‘other’ category with the entire spread under £2.
From the point of view of your weekly shopping list, this is probably the section that varies the most from week to week ─ you’re not going to be buying washing up liquid, for example, every week.
The biggest difference between Aldi and Lidl and the rest comes in their fresh fruit and vegetable prices. That seems to be where the biggest difference is between these two and the rest, even if they are consistently the cheapest supermarket across all of the sections that we have looked at from our generic shopping list.
Our list had more products in the fresh fruit and veg category than any other, but I feel that is indicative of a weekly shop. Most other products we can either freeze or store away until we need them, but fresh food needs to be… well, fresh. The bosses of Aldi and Lidl know this, so that’s why they push their weekly fresh fruit and veg offers.
There are a number of reasons why the prices in Aldi and Lidl are cheaper than the rest of the competition, and it’s important to understand them in order to work out whether shopping there is the best decision for you.
If you’ve ever shopped at an Aldi or Lidl, you’ll know that they are much smaller spaces than more traditional UK supermarkets. A smaller shop floor means you save money on overheads ─ the shops are cheaper to heat and power, and you require fewer people to stock shelves when you don’t have as many.
The flip side of this is that they don’t offer much choice for each product. Take, for example, tinned tomatoes. At Aldi and Lidl you’ll get a couple of different types; a budget one and a slightly less budget one. Whereas at Sainsbury’s or Tesco, you’ll have numerous different options from cheap to premium selections, and plenty in between.
In terms of numbers, an Aldi or Lidl shop will have between 1,000-1,500 different products. Compare that to a Tesco, Asda, Morrisons or Sainsbury’s, which will have closer to 40,000 different products.
As well as needing fewer people to stack the shelves, the cheapest supermarkets have a much more basic offering than most other supermarkets, which means they don’t need to employ as many people. No deli counter, no fish counter, a more basic bakery… not even a customer service desk. It’s very much just a case of aisles and checkouts.
This can impact your experience as a customer, but it just seems to work for these supermarkets. In fact, it was only when I was writing the above paragraph that I realised they don’t have a designated customer service desk, and I use both supermarkets regularly.
Both Aldi and Lidl make most of their products themselves. They tend to steer away from the big brand names where possible, which are much more expensive than the ones they make inhouse.
Part of the reason Aldi and Lidl are cheaper is because they need to be to survive! The main way that they can attract customers is by offering cheaper products than the competition, so it is always in their interest to drive down the price. If prices start creeping up, they will take action to keep them lower than the rest.
It’s become the norm for most supermarkets to be open for 24 hours 6 days a week, but that’s not the case for Aldi and Lidl ─ they have set opening times, which means they don’t have to pay staff and overheads for the long, quiet nights.
It may not be as simple as just going to your nearest Aldi or Lidl to get your cheapest supermarket shop ─ there are more elements that you’ll need to consider:
As I mentioned above, you won’t get the same amount of choice when you shop at Aldi or Lidl, so you may not be able to get everything on your shopping list. You might find they have sold out of some items, or just not stock them ─ things will always slip through the cracks when you have a more limited stock range. Is it worth your time to make two trips to get a complete shop?
While they do seem to be popping up all over the country (Lidl hope to open 25 new stores in the UK throughout 2023), not everybody lives close to one. There are around 960 Lidls in the country and 990 Aldi stores, whereas Tesco alone has 2,839. So it is much more likely that you live closer to a ‘traditional supermarket’ than an Aldi or a Lidl.
You will need to work out if it is worth the extra time and fuel to get to one of these, or will you be better off going to a closer supermarket that charges a little bit more?
I am a big fan of Aldi and Lidl, but even I would admit that I am occasionally disappointed with the quality of some of the products. You can accept it as part and parcel of shopping at the cheaper supermarkets, but it can be frustrating.
You can get fresh fruit and veg that goes off very quickly and the meat can be of limited quality ─ you need to be comfortable with that when you shop at Aldi or Lidl.
If you use these supermarkets, you’ll know what I mean already. Some people relish the challenge, some people absolutely hate it.
You don’t get much time, or assistance, at the checkout in Aldi or Lidl. Your products are scanned through at pace, and you need to pack them into your bags just as quickly. It’s intense, and this is enough to put some people off shopping there. My experience of the staff at Aldi and Lidl is always very positive, but they don’t have enough people on hand to assist you, should you need any help.
Even those of us that are always looking to save money can be incredibly loyal to certain brands. Whether it’s insisting on Heinz Baked Beans, or Hellman’s Mayonnaise, or maybe Colman’s Mustard ─ sometimes an own-brand product simply won’t do.
Aldi and Lidl recognise this, and so do stock certain brand name products ─ however, they are often more expensive than you’ll find in the larger supermarkets, and very rarely on offer. Buying these products from Aldi and Lidl could be chipping away at your savings on the rest of your shop.
If you have more than a passing interest in the prices at UK supermarkets, the results here won’t surprise you: Aldi and Lidl are the cheapest supermarkets to shop at in the UK. Their entire business model is set up to give you the cheapest products, and they do that very well.
The area that they most excel in is the fresh fruit and vegetables. The prices here are considerably cheaper than in the more traditional supermarkets, so if you tend to buy a lot of fresh fruit and veg, you can save much more money by shopping at Aldi and Lidl. Their weekly special offers can make a big difference to your overall spend ─ just make sure you get products with a decent expiry date so that your food doesn’t go off before you eat it.
The lack of choice can be an issue, and you may find yourself going to a larger supermarket every now and then to ensure you have everything in your cupboards that you need. But the fact remains that if you want the cheapest supermarket shops in the UK, Lidl and Aldi are the places to go.
Sources and Methodology
We used a combination of online resources (Which and Online Grocery Shopping), visits to supermarkets in Birmingham and Google Bard to trawl thousands of items to compile this data.
We cross-referenced data found using Bard with data we obtained and the data patterns were aligned with our findings. This allowed us to scale our data fast, yet accurately to give a comprehensive overview of the state of supermarket prices.