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Buying ‘ugly’ is the secret to supermarket savings, CHOICE reveals

Consumer group CHOICE has compiled its top tips for spending less at the supermarket checkout, and it favours those who don’t mind choosing the ugly option.

CHOICE editor Marg Rafferty said these tips could save shoppers hundreds of dollars at the checkout.

“Many people are dealing with tight budgets and reduced income, so every dollar at the supermarket counts,” Ms Rafferty said.

“We’ve looked across our reviews and research to find the best ways to make your dollar go further.”

Although these frugal habits are second-nature for some shoppers, CHOICE has backed up its tips with research and data.

Buy ugly

“If you’re not bothered by some misshapen veggies, picking up some imperfect produce is a great way to save money,” Ms Rafferty said.

Woolworths calls its imperfect produce range ‘The Odd Bunch‘, while Coles has ‘I’m Perfect‘ and Harris Farm Markets offers ‘Imperfect Picks‘.

Not only does this range of fruit and veg reduce food waste, but it’s also a great choice for recipes where they’ll be cut up anyway.

House brands are best

This one might seem obvious, but CHOICE has gone as far as to share which house-brand products stack up well against – if not better than – their name-brand competitors.

According to a CHOICE survey of vanilla ice cream, Aldi’s Monarc Indulge Vanilla Opulence and Woolworths Vanilla Bean tied with Connoisseur Classic Vanilla for first place.

A survey also found Coles Fairtrade Organic Freeze Dried Coffee to be the best instant coffee overall, outranking brands like Moccona, Nescafe and Lavazza.

Coles Gluten Free white bread also came in second overall, just one point behind Wonder Wholegrain White.

Skip the packaging

Another tip for saving in the produce section is to buy loose fruit and veg rather than pre-packaged and pre-cut options.

“At the moment, Woolworths advertises loose carrots for $2 a kilo, while their shredded and sliced carrots are priced at $10 a kilo,” Ms Rafferty said.

“That’s five times the price! If it’s an option for you, buying whole fruits or vegetables can save you a lot of money.”

Australia supermarket shopping tips
CHOICE has found Aldi to be cheaper than Coles and Woolworths. Photo: Getty

Shop around

Prices can vary depending on which chain you shop at, as well between individual locations.

“A shopping basket of goods at Aldi cost us $80.75 while a similar shop at Woolworths was $141.83, and $145.23 at Coles,” Ms Rafferty said.

“Aldi was also the cheapest supermarket in our Australia-wide research in 2015 and 2017.”

Consider the season

Fruit and vegetables that are in season are usually the best value for money.

However, if you are still keen on something that’s out of season, frozen fruit and veg are an affordable choice.

“Buying frozen fruits or veggies also means that it’s really difficult to waste them, potentially saving you more money,” Ms Rafferty said.

That way, you can still indulge in your favourites year-round.


RBA returns to principles on Afterpay fee gouge

It was one of the Reserve Bank’s more disappointing moments when Governor Philip Lowe signalled last December that the bank had backflipped on the principle of competitive neutrality for buy-now-pay-later (BNPL) credit companies like Afterpay.

That signal was confirmed in May in the RBA’s Review of Retail Payments preliminary conclusions consultation paper.

The bank stood with BNPL companies’ “innovation” against small merchants being slugged as much as 6 percent for BNPL transactions and denied the ability to recoup that cost from customers.

That decision looked all the worse for coming amidst overt political pressure to let the BNPL companies rip – to let the likes of Afterpay exploit regulatory loopholes to claim they weren’t providing credit, and to stand back and applaud as their share prices skyrocketed, making their founders billionaires.

But five months later, the RBA has backflipped again. It has returned to its fundamental principles in the review’s conclusions paper released on Friday.

It now says merchants should be allowed to apply surcharges if they wish; and that the playing field for BNPL fees should be levelled and put on the same basis as credit card merchant fees.

Coincidentally, the conclusions paper was released a few hours after Governor Lowe addressed a conference hosted by the Universidad de Chile on central bank independence, mandates and policies.

The thrust of his speech was that no one size fits all central banks, but that the RBA’s setup works well for Australia.

Perhaps that’s something for the government to weigh as it considers the chorus calling for a review of our central bank.

In light of the BNPL industry’s Liberal Party cheer squad, it is interesting that the wording of Friday’s decision specifically referenced the RBA’s mandate:

“The Board has concluded that it would be in the public interest and consistent with its mandate to promote competition and efficiency in the Australian payments system for BNPL providers to remove their no-surcharge rules, so that merchants have the ability to apply a surcharge to those payments if they wish. This approach is consistent with the Board’s longstanding principle in relation to no-surcharge rules.”

The RBA had left itself some wriggle room in earlier retreats from its principles, suggesting that while BNPL wasn’t a big deal yet, it would have to keep an eye on the sector, given the obvious inconsistency in the way giants like Afterpay prohibit surcharges.

The bank could be getting its retaliation in first against the BNPL lobby, saying in its conclusions paper:

“The Board considered the argument that no-surcharge rules can promote innovation and competition in the payments system by helping new payment providers build up the consumer sides of their networks.

“However, this needs to be weighed against the adverse implications for competitive neutrality in an environment where designated card schemes and some other payment services have been required to remove their no-surcharge rules.”

Prior to December, when the RBA seemed to be on the side of the level playing field, the loss of Afterpay’s ability to ban surcharges was seen to be a negative for the company’s share price.

Afterpay shares briefly dipped a little into the red on Friday morning but quickly recovered. The RBA announcement seems to have had no effect.

That could be because the Afterpay story is now more international than local. It could also be because of the final paragraph on the BNPL matter in the RBA paper:

“Given the complexity of the regulatory issues, the Bank will continue to engage with Treasury as part of the Treasury Review to ensure a level playing field in relation to no-surcharge rules and to keep downward pressure on merchant payment costs, especially for small businesses.”

It’s one thing for the RBA to conclude what would be in the public interest and another for the “engage with Treasury” process to actually end the no-surcharge rules – and that process remains prey to lobbying.