UK fifth in cost of groceries league: Patrick Hosking examines a survey of shopping prices in 13 countries

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The Independent Online
BRITISH shoppers pay more for their groceries than Germans, Americans and Australians, but have the consolation of the cheapest Mars bars and Heinz baked beans in the world, according to a survey of prices.

The World in a Shopping Basket study placed the UK as the fifth most expensive country out of 13 for groceries and everyday purchases. Iceland, Belgium, France and Italy were costlier.

Whereas the basket of 22 items cost pounds 42 in Britain, it was pounds 34.65 in the US, pounds 41.49 in Germany and pounds 30.92 in Australia. The cheapest was Mexico at pounds 20.40 and the most expensive Iceland at pounds 76.81.

The findings may be of interest to Sir Bryan Carsberg, the Director General of Fair Trading, who is conducting an informal investigation into the high profit margins made by the big supermarket groups.

British shops fell down particularly on alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and toiletries. Britons pay more than anyone except Icelanders for Bacardi rum and Marlboro cigarettes, partly due to higher taxes.

Premium lager in the UK was the third most expensive in the survey, which was conducted in September by International Information Services, part of Mintel. Foreign prices were converted at the average exchange rate for the month. However, Britain did have the cheapest Mars Bar, at 24p. That compared to 36p in Spain, 50p in India and 57p in Iceland. UK baked beans, at 25p, also compared favourably with Australia (35p), Italy (94p) and Germany (95p).

A McDonald's Big Mac burger was one of the most internationally available products, but prices showed huge differences. In the UK it cost pounds 1.66. An equivalent burger in India - where McDonald's does not exist - was 28p. Icelanders again had to suffer the most expensive price, paying pounds 5.10 for an equivalent snack. Prices of Coca-Cola, another global brand, ranged from 13p a can in India, where there has been a massive promotional campaign, to 72p in Iceland. The UK was 3p below average at 28p.

The survey showed that Belgium is the place to avoid buying disposable nappies, Spain is pricey for spaghetti, Czechoslovakia penalises buyers of Whiskas cat food and Italy punishes drinkers of Nescafe coffee.

Dry-cleaning a suit cost 95p in India and pounds 10.52 in Iceland. In the UK it was pounds 5.85, almost pounds 1 more than the world average.

The US was cheapest for petrol, where because of low taxes a litre of leaded cost 17p. British motorists, paying 47p, did better than most of their Continental counterparts. The top price was 70p a litre in Italy.

John Cunningham, chief executive of Mintel, said: 'It is surprising that so many everyday brands which are used by everybody in virtually every country can have such varying prices throughout the world.

'Some of the variations in price will be due to differences in exchange rates, some will be due to the differences in local raw materials and production or shipping costs, and some will be due to variation in taxes.

'Nonetheless, some products have too wide a variation in prices to be explained by these factors and one must assume that many multi-national companies are charging what they believe the market will bear, rather than on a cost-plus basis.'

(Charts omitted)