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Supermarket savings: Spain's cheapest and most expensive stores and regions
By thinkSPAIN Team Tue, Nov 5, 2019
GROCERY and household shopping habits tend to be subjective – a peek into anyone's basket is said to tell the viewer a lot about the consumer's lifestyle – although in Spain, one's choice of supermarket does not tend to reflect income or social class in the same way as in the UK.
For that reason, it's easy to believe each and every store is similar in terms of choice, range, quality and price – although national consumer organisation OCU has revealed this is not always the case. Whilst those of a certain typology tend to try to compete on price – and, more recently, social responsibility, looking at ways of beating their 'rivals' in cutting down on disposable plastic above and beyond what the law dictates – and certain stores are attempting to maximise their own brands, creating products which are at least as effective as those retailing elsewhere, it turns out the differences between supermarkets in Spain are greater than we thought.
Many shoppers will already tell you they have to visit several stores to get everything they need, or want, meaning customers tend less to have a particular favourite; otherwise, most will admit they merely go to their nearest one.
But the OCU's detailed study has revealed we can save hundreds, if not thousands, of euros by shopping around – and that sometimes, how much we shell out on our groceries is a postcode lottery.
Naturally, price isn't everything. Even knowing that we can cut our annual shopping bill by switching stores, we're not necessarily going to do so. Some have products we specifically need whilst others don't, or some have goods we prefer, and some are simply closer to home – there's little point in saving a few euros at the till if you're going to spend them all, and more, in petrol. Also, as anyone who owns – or is owned by – cats, dogs or other animals knows, however cheap a given brand of pet food is, you can't always persuade them to eat it. Most pets aren't going to let you shop around for their own groceries just so you can afford more stuff for yourself. But if saving money on human food is one of your priorities, the OCU's findings are helpful to bear in mind.
How much can you save?
The average Spanish household spends €5,113 per year in the supermarket – not just on food, but other household items such as cleaning products and basic toiletries – a rise of 2.6% on figures from this time last year, although still a lot less than before the start of the financial crisis in 2008. This is both positive and negative: the OCU has shown how supermarket prices have been rising annually, meaning people spend more for the same items, but they are also shelling out more cash in stores because they can afford extras not always available to them during the crisis years. One thing is clear, according to the OCU: prices have not come down since before the recession, meaning if people were spending more prior to 2008, it was because they were buying more.
Even then, the average Spanish household could save up to €1,063 per year on their shopping if they paid more attention to prices and were willing to seek out the supermarkets with the best deals. The annual saving achieved is 12.3% higher than it was a year ago for exactly the same effort, which shows how prices are continuing to climb, reveals the organisation.
But the amount we spend and what we can avoid spending is not just a matter of which store we visit – it's also affected by where we live, according to the study.
For example, in the commuter town of Alcobendas in the Greater Madrid region, just to the east of Spain's capital, shopping around could give you a whopping €3,554 extra in your purse by the end of the year. In Madrid city itself, you'll have €3,418 more per year to play with, in Sevilla you can save €2,149, in Barcelona €1,935, and in Vigo (Pontevedra province, Galicia), €1,809.
This would easily buy you a long-haul family holiday every year – but in other parts of the country, you may only save enough to pay about six months' worth of your car insurance. In Marbella (Málaga province), for example, the average household could cut its annual shopping bill by just €207 by switching supermarkets for some or all of its products. At less than €4 a week, and probably half or a third of that for single-occupant households, and especially if shopping around means having to travel further or compromise on goods you really like, it may not be worth the effort. Likewise if you live in Puertollano (Ciudad Real province, Castilla-La Mancha) or Ciudad Real itself, where you save a typical €254 and €322 a year respectively, or Soria, where you save €258, the effort involved may not really pay off.
What is an 'average household'?
It is likely, given Spain's demographic – four in 10 people live alone, the average number of children per woman of fertile age is 1.33, and 20% of the population is aged over 65 – that the OCU's 'average household' refers to a family of three, although according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), the average household size in Spain is 2.49 occupants.
In theory, therefore, a lone occupant would spend €2,053 per year in supermarkets, or about €39.50 a week, whilst a family of four would spend €8,214 a year, or €158 a week. Their savings by swapping stores or scrutinising prices could then be €427 a year (€8.21 a week) and €1,708 per annum (€32.84 weekly) respectively; in Alcobendas, as much as €1,427 annually (€27.45 weekly) for a person living alone or €5,709 a year (€110 a week) for a family of four or, in Marbella, €83.13 yearly (€1.60 a week) and €332.53 each year (€6.40 a week) respectively.
Which are the cheapest supermarkets nationally?
Not all supermarkets on the OCU's list are nationwide, so you may not have heard of some of the less-pricey – for example, the most economical of the lot, according to the study, is Andalucía-based Dani, where the average Spanish household would spend €4,345.05 per year, or €83.56 a week. Those where you'll spend less than €4,700 a year are, in descending order, Gadis Híper (€4,670.76), Cash Fresh, Supeco, Vidal, Familia, Alcampo (€4,500.59) and Castilla y León-based Tífer (€4,448.92).
Out of 89 supermarkets, with Dani being number 89 and the most expensive, Sánchez Romero (€7,748.22 per year, or €149 a week) at number one, Alcampo comes in at number 87, Vidal at 85, Supeco at 84, Híperdino at 80, Mercadona at 78, Superdino at 77, and El Jamón at 76.
Día Maxi is at 67, Consum at 65, and Mas y Mas at 64.
The latter, founded in Pedreguer (northern Alicante province) is Mercadona's largest competitor in the Valencia region, and its prices are near-identical in most branches at first glance – although the OCU's research found the average household would spend €4,746.98 per year (€91.29 per week) in Mercadona and €4,870.03 annually (€93.65 per week) in Mas y Mas, or a weekly difference of €2.37.
Alteza is 63rd on the list and Carrefour is 61st, although Carrefour Market stands at number 41, only just below the Spar (at 40) and two above Eroski (at 43), and Carrefour Express at number 22, just a few stores cheaper than Hípercor (at number 18).
El Corte Inglés and Supercor are 13th and 14th respectively, whilst Bip Bip is 11th from top and Aprop 12th.
And the cheapest by province?
The OCU takes the prices of branded products (including supermarket own-brand goods) and fresh produce, and assesses shopping bills only in provincial capitals and large towns, typically the second or third town in a given province, meaning the results may not be the same for smaller towns, villages or coastal enclaves. But it's a useful guide to check out and, if it turns out not to apply to your specific area of residence, at least you've tried.
According to the organisation, the cheapest supermarket in the south of the country tends to be the French chain Alcampo – this is the case in Sevilla, Murcia, Granada, Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz province (although Supeco and Rodalcash come out close second and third), Almería and Marbella, although Día Maxi is not far behind in the latter, and Mercadona comes out the most economical in Málaga and in Huelva, with Día Maxi and El Jamón close runners-up. Surprisingly, Carrefour is among the second-cheapest in Huelva, despite typically being among the highest-priced, largely due to its wider variety (with a growing international section) and convenience (as a hypermarket, you can also pick up anything from books, DVDs and clothes to household paint and gardening items at the same time as your bread and milk). For Cartagena (Murcia), the largest town near the Mar Menor area, Mercadona is cheapest, followed by Día Maxi and, again, Carrefour, then Eurospar fourth.
Heading up the coast in a north-easterly direction, Alcampo is the cheapest in Alicante city – a long way behind Mercadona, the second-cheapest, and as is the case with all towns and cities which possess one so far on the list, El Corte Inglés department store food hall is the most expensive by a wide margin. This said, as well as the convenience of being able to buy all your clothes, accessories, jewellery, cosmetics, electronics and, basically, all your Christmas gifts there, using your store card and paying it off with a chosen set figure every month, the quality and variety is also superior. El Corte Inglés is where you would tend to shop if you were throwing on a dinner party and were keen to impress, but didn't have time to go mooching around all the individual delicatessens and wine merchants'.
Still in the province of Alicante, Supeco is the cheapest in Elche, followed by Mercadona, and Dialprix and Hípercor – part of the Corte Inglés chain – are the most expensive.
Valencia city's cheapest supermarket is Alcampo, followed closely by Vidal on the Avenida Burjassot (the branch on the C/ Escultor Ricart Boix is, for some reason, more expensive), followed by Kuups and then Mercadona. Consum is the most expensive, except the branch on the C/ Sueca, according to the OCU's study.
For Balearic Islanders, the highest-priced supermarket in the region's capital, Palma de Mallorca, is Bip-Bip in the Sant Jordi area, followed by Híper Centro, both of which outstrip prices in El Corte Inglés and which are on a par with those seen in Aprop and the Spar. Joint cheapest are Mercadona and Alcampo, with Eroski City somewhere in the middle.
Alcampo and, close behind, Superdino are the most economical stores in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, followed by Híperdino – although here, unlike practically anywhere else in the country, Mercadona is among the most expensive, ahead of Alteza and Carrefour. The order is slightly inverted in the region's other provincial capital city, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, however – Alcampo still comes out top, but the difference is less marked and the second-cheapest is Híperdino. Mercadona and Eroski are the joint most expensive, with Carrefour and Superdino in the middle.
Overall, Alcampo is the cheapest supermarket in 31 of the 65 towns and cities studied, whilst Mercadona is the most economical in 16 out of 65, making it the third-most affordable on the high street.
Parts of Spain where you spend the most – and least – on supermarket shopping
The cheapest Alcampo in Spain is in Vigo's Coia neighbourhood, where a typical household would spend €4,011 a year – over €1,100 below average - or €77.14 a week, being €1,611 annually for a lone occupant (€31 a week) or €6,443 a year for a family of four (€124 a week).
Regional and local chains are often the most economical, according to the OCU's study, with the exception of Sánchez Romero – which is exclusively found in Alcobendas and Madrid.
Despite savings being greatest for discerning consumers in both these locations, last year's most expensive town for supermarket shopping was Getxo, in the Basque Country province of Vizcaya, the capital of which is Bilbao, and it still holds the record for the highest minimum annual shopping basket price in Spain at €4,998, with a maximum possible saving of €535 a year.
This year's most expensive city for supermarket shopping is Palma de Mallorca, which has risen from second place last year, a slot now occupied by Barcelona.
Towns and cities where it costs the least to go grocery shopping are Almería, Ciudad Real, Jerez de la Frontera, Puertollano, Vigo, and the cheapest of all, Zamora in Castilla y León, close to the Portuguese border.
By regions, Galicia, followed by Murcia, are the most economical for grocery shopping, whilst the Balearics and Catalunya cost the most.
Granada is the city where you'll find the most affordable fresh produce across the board, although for fruit and vegetables, the land-locked western region of Extremadura offers the lowest prices.
Meat is cheapest in Córdoba, Granada, Huelva and Jerez de la Frontera, although fish is cheapest in Galicia and – surprisingly, given how far they are from the nearest sea – the region of Castilla y León and the province of Teruel in southern Aragón.
Price rises and falls this year: What's been most affected
Goods which have risen the most in price in the last year, the OCU reveals, are onions, which have gone up by 44%, followed by potatoes, which have climbed by nearly 30%. Non-edibles which have seen the greatest price hikes include toilet paper – a standard 12-pack of double-layered rolls has soared by 7.6%.
Olive oil has risen sharply in price in the last few years, to the point where more and more households are switching to the cheaper sunflower oil – but the cost has dropped dramatically in the past year, possibly because of the reduced demand and in an attempt to stimulate it once more. It heads up the product with the greatest fall in cost, at 27.5%, a long way ahead of the second-largest price cut, in large strawberries, which have dropped by 12.5%.
This said, fruit and vegetables and their derivatives always vary in price annually, so these are not set in stone – a bad year for a given crop can see supply shrink and prices rise, and a good year will see the opposite. For example, 2019 has been a good year for strawberries, which have been in season for longer, more abundant in quantity and much lower in price, whilst the grape harvest took a battering a couple of years ago, leading to hikes in the cost of bottles of wine.
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