Consumer body wants food prices listed online

 

THE NATIONAL Consumer Agency (NCA) has written to the Republic’s big retailers with a view to establishing a grocery database containing real-time price information which consumers could use to make accurate comparisons on the cost of a basket of goods.

The agency is anxious to provide consumers with more timely information on supermarket pricing than the costly biannual surveys it publishes.

It is exploring the possibility of setting up a price comparison website which retailers would be required to update regularly.

Tesco Ireland last night gave its provisional backing to the plan with chief executive Tony Keohane calling on all grocery retailers to co-operate.

The agency wrote to Tesco, Spar, Dunnes Stores, Superquinn, Supervalu, Aldi and Lidl at the end of last month.

It said it had examined the situation elsewhere, including the UK and Italy, where grocery prices are available on a real-time basis, and believed the provision of more frequent information than NCA has provided to date would be of value to consumers. It said if retailers and the agency worked together to provide clear information to consumers, this would send a very positive message.

The website would be similar to popular services managed by communications watchdog ComReg and the Financial Regulator covering the telecoms and financial sectors. The NCA has indicated that offline versions for newspapers and other media outlets would also be made available.

One likely sticking point which could delay the implementation is likely to be comparisons between own-brand products.

It is easy for consumers to compare prices on branded products but such comparisons become contentious when own-brand products of varying quality are included in the same categories.

The NCA has accepted that the mechanism by which the system would operate, including the exact list of products to be included, needed further development and agreement, but as a first step it has asked retailers to indicate whether they would be willing to engage with the NCA. It has set the end of this week as an initial deadline.

Tesco Ireland sparked a retailing price war in May when it introduced a range of price cuts, initially in stores close to the Border.

Last night Mr Keohane accepted that consumers had developed “a healthy scepticism of claims by retailers about price changes and their relative merits”.

He said that one way retailers could “sustainably overcome that scepticism is to set up an official price comparison database, which includes all comparative product prices from all the main grocery retailers and which is updated at least monthly”. He said the site would have to incorporate a full range of grocery products.