Sainsbury and Tesco undercut by Shell

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The Supermarkets' reputation as the cheapest petrol retailers was undermined yesterday by research showing Tesco and Sainsbury have both been undercut by Shell.

Shell was cheaper than its sector rivals BP, Esso, Texaco and Total and was only undercut by Asda, according to research by Taylor Nelson Sofres (TNS). However, Shell emerged as the anomaly in the survey, with the supermarkets holding three of the four cheapest places in a league table of average prices in the year to August.

The TNS survey of 1,500 motorists found there was a 2.5p per litre gap between BP, the priciest retailer, and Asda - equivalent to almost £1 for a typical full tank of fuel. Richard Willcox, account director for TNS Petrol Panel, said Tesco and Sainsbury might have benefited from having a loyal customer base. "The petrol market is incredibly cost-sensitive, but it is clear that different strategies are emerging that have enabled some suppliers to charge more for unleaded petrol than competitors."

Sainsbury said the survey was "misleading" as it measured only 1,500 of the UK's 10 million car owners. A spokeswoman said: "Yesterday Sainsbury's average price for unleaded petrol was 79.8p, equal price to Asda and cheaper than all other retailers."