You can take on the Big Four, but success – at least in the long term – is not guaranteed. That’s what Britain’s budget imports Aldi and Lidl are finding: new figures from Kantar show that in the 12 weeks to September 3, Aldi lost market share to the traditional supermarkets for the first time this year, and Lidl lost ground for the first time in seven months.
At a time when shoppers are more cost-conscious than ever, Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons have been price matching Aldi and Lidl with certain products in an attempt to secure shopper loyalty. Where the German discounters might once have been able to lure in customers with lower-price goods, they can now often be found at the same price elsewhere.
This applies especially to the supermarket staples that are thrown in your shopping basket week in, week out: Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s budget tinned tomatoes are priced-matched to Aldi’s at 35p for a 400g tin; a 1kg bag of pasta is £1.39 at Tesco, as at Aldi; and even Ocado’s own-brand chickpeas (60p for 400g) are only one pence more than a bargain tin at Lidl.
These days, shopper loyalty is not only at risk for the supermarkets, but for household brands, too. It doesn’t always have to be Heinz, it seems – supermarkets are cooking up their own versions of popular products that, nowadays, are sometimes both cheaper than the original and superior.
This is, of course, largely a matter of taste: a quick poll of my Telegraph colleagues revealed strong opinions on branded versus own-brand cream cheese, mustard and tonic water, among many other products. My own non-negotiable is branded tomato ketchup – even if it is more expensive, nothing else will do. But an objective assessment of value for money is equally important.
So, which branded staples are worth forking out for, and where can you save without compromising on flavour? Enter Telegraph thrift expert Xanthe Clay – taste-testing household brands against supermarket own-label bargains is her bread and butter…
They are a non-negotiable for many, but Heinz baked beans aren’t immune to inflation and a single turquoise tin will now set you back £1.40 for 400g. When The Telegraph taste-tested 18 tins of beans across a broad price range, it found the market leader is not worth splashing out on. “A thin, dull sauce that lacks tomato flavour,” says Xanthe. “Fractionally larger beans than the others, but still not worth the money.” However, it is still worth buying branded: Branston, priced at 90p per tin, is “a brand with a cult following, and I can see why: richer, deeper and more savoury tasting than any of the others,” says Xanthe.
When compared with budget supermarket own-brand alternatives, Yorkshire Tea (£5.49 for 210 bags) comes out on top. In our taste test it had “a lovely bright red-brown colour, with a malty, rounded flavour. A cracking cuppa,” in comparison with Asda Everyday teabags (£3.20 for 240 bags), which are half the price but were “dull and flat-tasting”.
While supermarket iterations try to emulate the classic salty tang of the Greek cheese (and Asda’s Extra Special Barrel Aged Feta comes close with its full-flavoured product at £1.60 for 100g), little beats Epiros Original Feta (costing a pricier £2.62 per 100g at Ocado), which delivers a “gorgeous fermented flavour,” says Xanthe. “Not cheap, but worth it.”
Love it or hate it, when it comes to yeast extracts, it has to be Marmite (£3.35 for a 250g jar). Xanthe tasted versions from Asda, Lidl, Tesco, Aldi and Sainsbury’s, and found that the branded version was best on almost every count. “Marmite has a noticeably smoother texture than the others I tried; stickier and more elastic,” she said. “The flavour is very strong, but rounded. It does well on value as you need less. The real deal.”
As a budget alternative, Sainsbury’s Reduced Salt Yeast Extract (£2 for a 225g jar) also ranked highly: “Tarry, quite malty, and milder than its Marmite counterpart. There’s a touch of a powdery, grainy texture,” she says, but “you don’t notice on toast”.
When it comes to authentically thick, creamy greek yogurt (none of this “Greek-style” nonsense) it is worth splashing out on the leading brand. Fage’s Total 5% Fat Greek yogurt (£5.50 for 950g) is “expensive, but ravishingly thick and creamy, with a complex cheesy edge and a balanced gentle acidity”. However, Xanthe held Lidl’s Milbona Authentic Greek yogurt (£2.19) in equally high esteem. It is “super-creamy and luscious, with a light sourness and some lingering complexity”.
Cheaper own-brand digestives are just as good for dunking in tea as that familiar packet. Of Sainsbury’s budget Lovett’s digestive biscuits (55p for a 400g packet), Xanthe said: “I would choose these over McVitie’s even if they were the same price – so it’s extra pleasing that they’re a lot cheaper … Sainsbury’s budget brand comes up trumps with these dark-edged biscuits. Rough textured, with a dark and distinctly malty bran flavour, they would be good to have with cheese.”
Listen up, Kellogg’s devotees – our taste test found that the cheapest own-brand cornflakes from Lidl were also the healthiest. The surprising winner on taste, ingredients and value for money were Lidl’s humble Crownfield Cornflakes (63p for a 500g pack). Meanwhile, the more expensive Kellogg’s (£2.25 for 500g) have “a nice toasty colour and a strong malty flavour, but they are too sweet.”
Branston might come immediately to mind in this category, but at £2.45 for a 520g jar, it’s a high price to pay for a condiment that tastes “too salty – more than twice most of the others on the market,” says Xanthe. In Lidl’s Batts Sweet Pickle (95p for 390g), large chunks of “crunchy and fresh-tasting” veg make it shine – “I can pick out swede and carrots,” says Xanthe. The cheaper product delivers “a good balance of sweet and sour that would do honour to a pork pie”.
It is a bold claim, but our Weetabix taste test found a better, cheaper alternative to Britain’s best selling cereal. M&S Food Wholegrain Wheat Bisks come in at £1.85 for 24, as opposed to £3.50 for the branded stuff, and are “pleasingly, gently sweet [with a] toasty flavour. Lovely with milk, though they soften fast.” They came top, but a close second was an even more budget-friendly buy: Lidl Crownfield Wholegrain Wheat Bixies (£1.89 for 36).
A homemade sauce will always taste better than bought, but if you’re pushed for time, it pays to know which of the supermarket jarred sauces is best. Is it worth forking out for a premium pot? In short, no. Of the top three best pasta sauces – all of which were rated four out of five in our taste test – two were supermarket own-brand. Tesco’s no-bells-and-whistles Bolognese Sauce (95p for 500g) was “well-balanced … Very tomatoey and quite fresh-tasting, with no musty herb flavour.”
Cheaper still was Aldi’s versatile Cucina Smooth Tomato Sauce (89p for 500g), which was “fresh-tasting like a simple homemade sauce, tomatoey in flavour with some nice textured lumps.” The premium Mutti Pasta Sauce with Rossoro Tomatoes and Parmigiano Reggiano (£3.15 for 400g) also ranked highly, but it is useful to know there are comparable options for a third of the price.