Loose Vs Packed

Reporter: Helen Wellings

Wouldn't it be nice to find a way to buy food at cheaper prices in any supermarket in Australia but not lose out on quality. Well now we can show you how to shop smart, where to find the biggest supermarket bargains. Advertisements won't reveal how to track down these huge savings but our consumer affairs editor Helen Wellings will. "Our research has shown overall that consumers can save up to 47% on their grocery bill" says Gerard Brody from the Consumer Action Law Centre.

Secret bargains at every supermarket - that can slice your weekly food bill in half. Most shoppers don't know about these savings but they're staring at you from the shelves in dozens and dozens of product lines. Like most young mums, Ewa Gwiazda's on a strict budget, trying to pay off her house, so any savings on the weekly food bill are critical. But even she was unaware of the biggest bargains, right under her nose, until we took her on a supermarket shopping spree.

The secret? Buying foods loose or unpackaged instead of the equivalent pre-packaged. And the supermarket's deli section are where the bargains are starting with just 11 examples here. The chicken breast was $16 compared to the not packaged which was $10, a saving of $6. And then, we have the chicken tenderloin that were $16 compared to the chicken tenderloins which were $11, that's a saving of $5. And don't be swayed by advertising claims - these packed wings cost 60 cents a kilo more than bought loose.

"The biggest surprise was the bacon. Pre-packaged $6 compared to $3 buying it loose. That's a huge saving" says Ewa. Some other outstanding savings; salami - 100 grams pay $3.90 prepacked, $2.20 loose, saves $1.70. Cheese - prepacked $6.92 the equivalent amount cut at the deli, $5.40 saves $1.52. Olives loose a saving of 90 cents, smoked salmon $3.35 in the plastic pack versus $1.70 unpackaged at the deli.

"The ham, it's a dollar cheaper if you buy it loose and all your paying for is the packaging. All this packaging... So just from 11 items, I saved nearly $25 from buying them from the deli section and that's over $1200 in a year and that $1200 can go towards my monthly house repayments" says Ewa. Packaged food is more convenient if you're in a rush and you do get more product information - but from our typical shop here, these packages that you throw away will cost you $1 out of every $3 you spend.

Add mushrooms, olives, fetta cheese and smoked salmon to Ewa's shop makes the total for our pre-packaged foods $92.45, the total for the equivalent loose only $61.40. Save $31.05 if you buy loose. The total yearly saving's around $1,615! So now we've shown you, but it is tricky recognising what's cheaper. "It can be difficult when comparing loose items to other packaged items because of the different sizes of the items in the store. At the deli you're told upfront how much things are per kilo and other items where as pre packaged it might be a category of 750g or something else which makes it really difficult to compare" says Gerard.

Gerard Brody of the Consumer Action Law Centre advocates mandatory unit pricing. It tells shoppers, faced with products of multiple sizes and weights, how much each item really costs, say per kilogram or per 100 ml, so you can instantly compare prices. "It really is highway robbery that some items in the supermarket are much more expensive than others... consumers can save up to half the amount on their grocery bill." Aldi stores were the first to introduce unit pricing throughout their stores. Aldi's Andrew McConville says customers like being able to easily assess price differences. Now the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission after its current investigation into grocery prices is expected to recommend by July that the major supermarkets also label their shelves with unit prices.

Also expect some resistance by the major supermarkets if unit pricing is recommended by the ACCC - do they and the big food companies really want to encourage shoppers to select the cheaper unpackaged items?