North and South: a tale of two grocery bills

It might be time to break for the Border again: as our comparisons show, shoppers in the Republic pay much more for groceries than those in the UK

Our virtual Tesco shop of the same 30 items costs €132.64 in the Republic and €112.02 in the North, a difference of more than 20 per cent. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Our virtual Tesco shop of the same 30 items costs €132.64 in the Republic and €112.02 in the North, a difference of more than 20 per cent. Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

Mon, Aug 25, 2014, 01:00

Earlier this summer, the Guardian asked families in seven cities, including Dublin, to do a comparable grocery shop and send in their receipts. Dublin, the smallest city to feature, was more expensive than London, Berlin, New York and Paris, and only very slightly cheaper than Sydney. Toronto was the most expensive city, and even there, a basket of goods cost just under 20 per cent more than it did here.

The reason Dublin was included in the mix was not because of its “mega-size” but because it allowed the newspaper to directly compare the prices of identical products in Tesco outlets in two jurisdictions. It found what it described as “some shocking differences”.

Eggs in Tesco in Dublin cost 44 per cent more than in London, Irish onions were 51 per cent dearer and broccoli cost 201 per cent more here than there. A packet of Finish dishwasher tablets could be bought for half the price in the UK. Almost across the board, things cost more in the Republic.

The Guardian and its British readers may well have been shocked by the wild price discrepancies, but Irish consumers won’t be too surprised. We have grown wearily accustomed to paying much more for our groceries than our counterparts across the water or in Northern Ireland.


Comparing prices: Tesco

Let’s compare prices in both jurisdictions by undertaking a “virtual shop” of routine goods on and, buying 30 items that would be commonly found in most Irish shopping trolleys. We will choose a mix of branded and own-brand options, and, apart from a few minimal differences as a result of imperial versus metric packaging, our baskets are identical. All told, we spend €132.64 in the Republic and €112.02 in the North, a difference of more than 20 per cent.

Some of the price differentials seem inexplicable. A kilogram of loose broccoli sells for €3.15 in the Republic, but just €1.75 in the UK, while a similar volume of carrots are €1.49, and just 94 cent in the UK. Six litres of milk cost just over €5 in the Republic, while close to six litres in the UK – they still use imperial measures there – can be bought for €3.75.

Tesco has repeatedly been asked to explain the price differences, but it always struggles. It usually says overheads are higher in the Republic, but then refuses to reveal its profit margins here, claiming the information is “commercially sensitive”.

We contacted the retailer again to see if it could shed any more light on the issue. It blamed higher labour costs, energy costs and levies on certain products such as wine, and it suggested that the timing of price promotions differs in each market, and said “on some items of fresh produce, meats and other household items, Tesco Ireland is cheaper than the UK”.

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