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Mystery shop: How much more do you pay in M&S Simply Food?

Marks & Spencer sign by Gareth.D.JonesMarks & Spencer markets itself as a luxury supermarket brand, so it’s no surprise that consumers will pay more to shop there than they would at a store such as Asda or Tesco. But how much extra are you paying for convenience? We shopped in a standard M&S store and an M&S Simply Food store to find out.

In our last investigation, we mystery shopped Tesco to see how their large supermarkets stacked up against a Tesco Express store. Tesco Express came out as consistently more expensive across several items on our list and, on average, so did M&S Simply Food, the retailer’s convenience store counterpart.

The price of convenience

Although Tesco Express inflated prices in their stores by a few extra pence on certain items, M&S Simply Food was often more than 10p more expensive than its larger supermarkets.

Across our chosen list of 16 items, only three were the same price in both stores. The rest were all more expensive in M&S Simply Food.

The biggest difference was found in the price of salmon. In M&S Simply Food, a pack of two salmon fillets was £5.75 but in the larger store the exact same pack was £5.49. A 26p difference (almost 5 per cent) and they weren’t priced by weight.

The price of tomatoes also varied a lot. For 450g of Santini plum tomatoes (the only ones available in the Simply Food store) the price was £3.15. But the same item was £2.99 in the larger store.

In general, the prices differed across the board by between 6p and 10p per item. A lasagne ready meal, for example, was £2.09 in M&S Simply Food, but £1.99 in the city centre supermarket. The same applied to cheese, which was 10p more expensive, for the same variety and weight, in the smaller store.

And if you look at the table below, this type of difference is repeated across our list.

Smaller stores mean less choice

Another obvious difference between the stores was their range of products. Obviously, M&S Simply Food is a convenience store for picking up essentials, so the variety available is far less than in a bigger supermarket.

But there were no fresh vegetables, everything was pre-packaged and more expensive than the larger store, and there was no frozen foods section, something Tesco Express offers.

As with Tesco, the way certain items were priced in both M&S stores differed. For example, a bag of chicken breast fillets was the only whole chicken breast option on sale in M&S Simply Food and each bag was priced at £6.49, regardless of the weight per kilogram. And each bag was estimated to contain between three and five chicken breasts.

But in the larger store the bags were priced by weight at £8.99 per kilogram and each bag was estimated to contain between seven and nine breast fillets.

The same applied to bananas. In the larger supermarket you could get seven bananas, pre-packaged, for £1.49. But in the Simply Food store you pay £1.39 for a bag containing just four bananas. So, whilst it’s 10p cheaper, you do lose out on three bananas.

A spokesperson for M&S said: “Our Simply Food franchise stores are all about convenience and our train station stores reflect that.

“Yes, prices are a little higher than at our high street stores but this reflects the fact that these stores are open longer and are highly convenient for customers on the move. Our franchise partners work hard to keep prices competitive and in line with the industry, and our stores are extremely popular with travellers."

If you’d like us to mystery shop a company or provider or have an opinion on these findings email me at lois.avery@confused.com or tweet me @confusedlois.

Shopping list

M&S supermarket (Queens Street, Cardiff)

M&S Local (Cardiff Central train station)

Difference

Cheese 250g (Red Leicester)

£1.99

£2.09

10p

Butter 500g (reduced fat olive spread)

£1.55

£1.55

None

Milk (semi skimmed)

86p

86p

None

Eggs x6 (Large free range)

£1.79

£1.89

10p

Bread (Golden Wholemeal loaf)

£1.39

£1.45

6p

Pasta sauce

£1.04 (half price)

99p (half price)

6p

Pasta (fusili 500g)

£1.35

£1.29

 

Rice 1kg

£1.24 (long grain)

£1.55 (basmati)

n/a

Chicken breast whole

£8.99/kg (7-9 fillet bag)

£6.49 (3-5 fillet, priced bag, weights vary)

 

Scottish salmon x2 fillets

£5.49

£5.75

26p

Lasagne 400g

£1.99

£2.09

10p

Italian Instant coffee 100g

£2.79

£2.85

6p

Bananas

7 bananas for £1.49

4 bananas for £1.39

10p + 3 bananas

Microwave Vegetables (Chef style)

£1.79

£1.89

10p

Onions 3 pack

99p

99p

None

Santini Tomatoes 450g

£2.99

£3.15

16p

photo by Gareth.D.Jones




Lois Avery

Lois Avery

Lois joined Confused.com in 2010 after working for Dyson and as a local newspaper reporter in Wiltshire. After a year writing financial journalism at Confused.com, Lois won the 2011 'most promising newcomer' at the BIBA journalist of the year awards.

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