Monday, October 25, 2010

Price watch

I seldom go from shop to shop looking for the ‘best’ prices on food stuffs. By the time I’ve rushed around using extra petrol and parking meters, any potential savings have been spent anyway. Plus I really don’t have the time. I generally shop at my local supermarket (Pick and Pay – our local equivalent to Tescos), only making the occasional foray further afield.

Last week, I spent an hour or so noting down prices on food stuffs that I buy regularly, looking for the best value between the various brands available within the one supermarket. ‘House’ brands are usually the cheapest, but not always. Larger, economy packs sometimes cost the same – or more – than the equivalent weight or quantity in the smaller size packs. It always pays to check the prices – look on the higher and lower shelves, too; the popular - often more expensive - brands are usually at eye-level. I’m afraid I’m very skeptical when things are labeled free-range, organic or omega-3, I don’t know how stringent our local food-regulatory body is.

Eggs – ½ dozen ‘house’ brand, extra large R8.49 (R1.42 ea); these were the cheapest at Pick and Pay, and an egg is an egg is an egg, right? Branded ‘free range’, large were R8.99 for 6 (R1.50 ea); and the ‘Omega-3’ were R11.99 for 6 (R2.00 ea). There is – supposedly – three times as much omega-3 in omega-3 eggs as there is in regular eggs, but is the price difference really justified? Last night, I found 18 free-range eggs at R20.92 (R1.16 ea) on ‘card-holder’s’ 10% discount at Woolworths – even at the non-discounted price they worked out to R1.29 ea.

Whole grain pasta – 1 kilogram branded product started at R23.18 and rose quite alarmingly from there. The house brand started at R15.18. If you want to take a trip to your nearest Fruit and Veg city, they have 3 x 400gm packs of pasta for R20 – but these are not whole grain products, admittedly. A serving of pasta is 60gm (dried), so the cost per serving is 91c (whole grain, house brand), 99c (white), or R1.39 (branded whole grain).

Canned tuna in brine – 170gm, shredded, R7.99: 170gm, chunks, R10.99: 425gm, chunks, R23.99.
If you’re making tuna and mayo sandwiches then obviously the shredded is the cheapest, but if you want to make a salad or fish cakes the chunky is a better choice. In this case, the larger can works out 40c cheaper by equivalent weight. But then don’t forget the humble pilchard; served with a salad, mashed on toast or made into very tasty fish cakes, pilchards are an excellent choice at R11.99 for 400gm.

Legumes – 400gm branded baked beans – just R4.99, a good, high-fibre breakfast or lunch for 2; or add sliced banana for an interestingly different salad that kids will love. By and large, dried beans are far cheaper than the cooked canned varieties. I found dried lentils at R23.99 for 500gm, but R7.49 for a 400gm can. Lentils triple their weight when cooked, so a 500gm packet of the dried will give you 1.5 kilograms when cooked, without the added weight of the canning liquid (±160gm). 240gm drained, canned lentils cost R31.20 per kilo, but you can cook your own from dried at a cost of R8 per kilo – just over ¼ of the price! Lentils, barley and split peas require no overnight soaking, and cook very quickly.

Fruit and vegetable prices vary radically by season. Very often the frozen brands are less expensive than fresh or canned, all year round. Nutritionally speaking, there is not that much difference between the three. Personally, I will always buy fresh – the flavour is so much better, I under- rather than over-cook them, and there is less in the way of additives (specially salt/sugar). If you buy canned, choose fruits in their own juice not syrup.

Here's an example of the bigger package costing more:
5 Roses tea bags - 100 (+ 2 extra free) cost R20.49: the 200 bag box (no free extras) costs R43.99. Doesn't make sense to me.

Oh, by the way, the exchange rate varies daily, but you can take  R11 to £1 and R7 to $1 as a rough guide.


Roberto said...

Hi Sphinx
I know exactly what you mean. I have friends who shop around for the best prices and save 5 cents! Ha!
One particular product which amazes me, price-wise, is Maccona Coffee. I buy it in 400gms bottle for A$19.49 - and I decant it into (believe it or not) 5 x 100 gms bottles, and store it in the fridge! So, not only am I getting a little extra from the fine people at Maccona, but I'm saving heaps - to buy a 100 gms bottle of the same coffee is A$8.99 !
Go figure that one! Crazy!

Sphinx said...

Hi, Bob - the price of coffee is crazy altogether, and if you want de-caff the price difference is out of proportion! The fridge is a good place to keep coffee (or the freezer) as that stops the coffee developing a bitter taste. The reason you can fill 5 100gm jars is because the contents 'settle after packaging' - to start with there is extra air around the product which eventually rises to the top! Good saving, though.