The non food pricing battle is intensifying, says Gaelle Walker

However, Tesco achieves lowest pricing when looking at the broader category of home entertainment, which includes electrical products such as DVD players, batteries and single-use cameras as well as DVDs, CDs and games. The cost of Tesco’s eight home entertainment products is £84.37 compared with Asda’s £85.57.

Tesco and Asda are now neck and neck in the increasingly ferocious battle for the non food pound, reveals The Grocer 33’s quarterly non food shopping survey.
As both turn up the heat with the launch of non food stores, Tesco Homeplus and Asda Living, the quarterly survey of a basket of 33 non food items reveals that Asda, at £187.15, is now just 40p cheaper than second-placed Tesco.
The latest survey shows that Tesco and Asda are currently matching each other on prices for 20 of our 33 non food items and there is no sign of any letting up on the competitive pricing.
Sainsbury is in third place and Morrisons is fourth in the survey, which price-checks a selection of commonly bought clothing, electrical, kitchen, home office and bathroom goods.
Comparison with the last survey reveals, however, that overall basket prices are only down marginally at the top two.
Sainsbury is the retailer to have made the most significant price reductions across the board. Its 33-item shopping basket is £30 cheaper than last time. A large reduction in the price of its cheapest microwave, which has dropped by £10 since our last report, is an example of this.
DVDs, CDs, PlayStation games and books are key in the non food battleground and the figures show that Tesco and Asda are now mirroring each other for prices in this section, with both totalling £58.17 for the four items on our list. Morrisons is also fighting hard in this sector, with Sainsbury 2p more expensive at £59.76.
However, analysts predict a sharper fall by the next survey because of the Christmas period, during which non food is expected to play a critical role.
The past few weeks have given the first indication of the sort of range and promotional activity that can be expected over the next two months.
Last month, Sainsbury chief executive Justin King confirmed that this Christmas would be a critical time for the retailer’s non food offer.
He said: “There will be lots of price cuts as people prepare for Christmas,” adding that non food was set to become more important in Sainsbury’s plans.
Even the retailers that have not in the past gone to town with non food appear to be taking a different tack. Morrisons spokesman Charles Du Pre said: “This year’s seasonal range not only includes crockery and tableware but also a varied selection of candles and ‘finishing touches’ which have all been specifically designed to appeal to young and old customers alike.”
Electrical goods will continue to be of great significance for multiples during the festive period, with extended ranges and lower price points making for a doubly attractive offer.
Books is another category that is becoming an increasingly important part of the Christmas mix, according to Gavin Rothwell at Verdict Research.
He says: “Supermarkets are expanding their literature sections, particularly in the run-up to the festive period.
“Whereas before many may have just sold the paperback chart, prize-winning and shortlisted titles are now being added to their ranges. This will be seen over the Christmas period, but it is also set to become a permanent development.”
Meanwhile, Tesco is preparing to step up its non food offer with the opening of its biggest-ever distribution centre in Daventry. The 750,000 sq ft colossus due to be opened this month will be dedicated to its non food products.
The top four are also looking at ways of driving non food sales online.
Asda spokesman Dominic Burch says: “In the past year Asda has invested more than £7m in its online service and we are keen to develop it further.”
The multiples are also eyeing up a raft of other non food opportunities such as in-car entertainment and innovative gadgets such as satellite navigation.
Ominously for the high street, they are ironing out some of the non food issues that have held them back in the past. One criticism, for instance, has been the limited product knowledge of their staff.
Tesco non food pricing analyst Gary Kirkbright says that is now being tackled. “A lot of effort has been spent on the training of staff, so our non food sections now have dedicated and knowledgeable assistants.”
That’s got to be worrying for the high street, says Verdict’s Rothwell.
“This certainly ups the ante. The training of staff to give specialist advice is a new competence for supermarkets but, given their track record of success, there is no reason to suspect that they won’t get it right. Supermarkets have no weaknesses in terms of non food, only opportunities.”
No doubt by the next The Grocer 33 non food survey in three months’ time, many of those opportunities will have been exploited by the multiples.

Number ones
>>the top CD, DVD, paperback and PS2 Game
To more accurately compare like with like, we checked the prices of the official top CD album, DVD, paperback and PS2 game - rather than prices of the multiples’ own top sellers.
According to The Official UK Charts Company and Games Tracker, the official number one chart items are: The Sugababes’ album - Taller In More Ways; Little Britain - The Complete Second Series; Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code; and Fifa 2006.

The Grocer 33 non food pricing survey
>>the industry’s barometer of non food pricing in multiple grocers (£)
Cheapest bath towel1.764.991.766.39
Cheapest hand towel0.742.990.743.99
Cheapest duvet - double8.749.998.749.99
Cheapest duvet cover - double6.479.997.006.99
Cheapest microwave24.4727.9924.4424.99
Cheapest stainless steel kettle14.7714.9914.9714.99
Cheapest steam iron4.945.674.944.99
Cheapest toaster (2-slice)5.645.005.665.59
Cheapest standard umbrella3.972.994.004.99
Light bulbs 2-pack (40w-60w)0.440.450.440.45
Cheapest own label A4 refill pad0.360.490.720.49
Cheapest own label lever arch file0.761.490.760.99
Cheapest own label ringbinder0.360.790.360.49
Printer paper 500 sheets1.951.991.944.49
Cheapest roasting tin (incl turkey tin)0.880.890.680.99
Cheapest wooden spoon0.340.390.260.49
Measuring jugs0.440.490.440.79
Pizza cutter0.971.991.481.99
Saucepan (16cm)2.365.992.362.37
Vacuum flask (1-litre)3.473.493.473.99
Top of chart CD album9.779.779.779.79
Top of chart DVD14.8414.9914.8414.99
Top of chart paperback3.734.993.734.99
Top of chart PS2 game 29.8329.9929.8329.99
Blank CDR - 10-pack3.973.992.773.99
Cheapest batteries 4-pack x AA size0.720.790.721.87
Cheapest DVD player19.7424.9919.7424.99
Cheapest single-use camera2.974.952.974.99
Total (excl. Clothing)169.40197.51169.53196.04
Morrisons does not stock a comprehensive clothing line so is not included in the five clothing lines stocked by Asda, Tesco and Sainsbury that are compared below
Cheapest men’s jeans3.00NS3.009.00
Cheapest T-shirt3.00NS3.003.00
Cheapest black trousers6.00NS6.004.50
Cheapest women’s jeans3.00NS3.006.00
Cheapest white blouse2.75NS3.006.00
clothing Total17.75NS18.0028.50
Overall Total187.15NS187.55224.54
The Grocer 33 Non Food Report is a quarterly survey designed to reflect the prices of key non food lines in the big four supermarket chains. The survey uses a basket of commonly bought non food products. Shelf-edge prices are collected by retail and trade research specialists ESA via store audits.