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Retailers have been accused of failing to stock budget items in smaller stores

Supermarket bosses have slammed “unfair and inaccurate” criticism by campaign groups of their efforts to respond to the cost of living crisis.

This week consumer group Which? and The Food Foundation accused retailers of failing to do enough to help shoppers suffering from food poverty, despite food inflation soaring to its highest level for almost half a century.

Which? released the results of a mystery shop carried out at 123 Asda, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and Tesco stores, which found only a tiny fraction of their budget range were being carried in smaller stores.

It found essential budget range items were hardly stocked in smaller stores – even though it claimed two thirds (66%) of those earning £21,000 or less shop in a convenience store at least once a week.


The survey checked the availability of 29 everyday budget items, including dried pasta, tinned tomatoes, fresh fruit & vegetables, minced meat and tinned fish.

On average, the biggest supermarket stores had 87% of the products.

However, in small Tesco Express, Sainsbury’s Local and Morrisons Daily convenience stores, the budget line items on Which?’s list were available less than 1% of the time.

Of the 35 smaller stores from the three mults visited across the country by Which?’s mystery shoppers, 30 did not have in stock any of the budget range items on the list. The remaining five stores only stocked one budget range item from the list each.

Which? claimed by not adequately stocking budget range necessities in their small stores, supermarkets were leaving consumers who only had access to smaller stores less able to access affordable, healthy food.

The attack comes as part of its Affordable Food For All campaign, which is also calling for all supermarkets to make pricing and offers more transparent.

The organisation recently launched an outspoken attack on the “huge profits” announced by Tesco while food poverty was soaring, despite the retailer’s profits being halved by the cost of living crisis.

“At a time when millions of people are struggling to put food on the table, it’s shocking that budget range foods are not available to people who can’t get to a large supermarket,” said Sue Davies, head of food policy at Which? “Everyone should have access to affordable nutritious food, no matter where they live.”

However, Tesco said the report ignored the economic reality that small stores could not feasibly carry the same ranges as larger supermarkets or Extra stores.

Flawed study

“We are disappointed to see this highly flawed study from Which? that does not accurately reflect the role of convenience stores and does not provide any helpful information for customers who are shopping on a budget,” a spokeswoman said.

“Our Express stores do not have the shelf space to accommodate all the product ranges available in our larger stores, so we use our expert knowledge of local customers’ shopping habits to make sure the ranges in each store best meet local tastes and needs.

“With household budgets under continued pressure, we remain absolutely focused on providing great value and are committed to giving our customers consistent, reliable prices whether they shop in our large stores, online, or at one of our Express convenience stores.”

A Morrisons spokesman said: “Our Savers range has never been more important to our customers.

“In the last few months we have cut the prices of over 50% of the products, broadened the range by more than 10%, and we are currently updating and improving the packaging. We believe that our customers appreciate the value, breadth, quality and availability of the range more than ever.”

Asda pointed out that it should not have been included in the survey results.

“They visited 123 stores in total, none of which were Asda,” a spokesman told The Grocer.

He pointed to a line in the report that says: “We were unable to visit small Asda stores as they have only recently started to offer these and store numbers across the country are low.”


However, today the Food Foundation, which has also repeatedly accused supermarkets of failing to promote the government’s Healthy Start vouchers scheme, backed Which?’s call as it released a new seven-minute film on food poverty, called ‘They Know We Are Here’, which claims retailers are not doing enough.

“Food insecurity rates have doubled in the past year and one in four households with children are affected,” said Food Foundation executive director Anna Taylor. “The government must do more. It must ask supermarkets to explore what they can do to make nutritious food affordable to low-income families.”

The foundation also attacked the government for failing to put into place recommendations to help food poverty recommended in Henry Dimbleby’s National Food Strategy. Dimbleby stepped down from his post last month, accusing ministers of ignoring his proposals on health.