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Mystery shop: Tesco vs. Tesco Express

Uk bank notesTesco Express stores seem to be springing up on every street corner in the UK. But are you paying extra for these convenient one-stop shops? We compared prices in an ordinary Tesco supermarket with those in a local Tesco Express store to see how they stacked up.  

Tesco Express stores might save you a trip to a big supermarket but our mystery shop shows that consumers are paying a premium for this convenience. 

We compared a number of products in Tesco Express and a larger Tesco supermarket, both in Bristol, to see exactly what the difference was in price. And the results may surprise you. 

Our shopping list consisted of 20 items and ranged from everyday essentials like bread and milk, to fruit, vegetables, and convenience foods. 

Of the 20 item shopping list, 12 were more expensive in Tesco Express. Most often the difference was just a few pence, but in some cases it was higher. 

The price of convenience 

Some items were more expensive in the Tesco Express simply because the cheaper alternative was not on offer. As you’d expect, the larger store had a lot more choice when it came to almost every item on our list. 

And the way products were priced in the Express store also differed. 

Salmon, for example, was priced by weight, with each pack £3.50 for 220g in Tesco Express. But in the supermarket the same salmon was priced per 240g packs for just 50 pence extra.

Similarly, in the Express branch, bananas cost 21 pence each. Yet in the supermarket bananas are priced by weight, at 87 pence per kilogram, which is far cheaper if you’re buying more than one. 

The biggest price difference from our list was on a Tesco Italian Lasagne microwave meal. In Tesco supermarket it was £1.87 but in the Express store the price rose to £1.98 – an 11p increase. 

Coffee was also more expensive. A 100g jar of Nescafe was £2.49 in Tesco supermarket but £2.59 in Tesco Express. 

Rice was considerably pricier in Tesco Express, at 12p more than the larger Tesco counterpart, as was Pepsi, which came in 7p more in the Express store. McCain oven chips were cheaper in the larger store and, in general, so were the fruit and vegetables available. 

Special offers 

As well as paying a slightly higher price, shoppers also miss out on special offers if using the smaller Express branches. In some cases, the items on our list were on offer in the larger store but not in Tesco Express. 

However, the inflated prices in Tesco Express didn’t exist for every item. In fact, essentials like bread and milk were equally priced in both stores, although we only looked at Tesco’s own brand in this instance. 

When we asked Tesco why their prices are inconsistent between stores, a spokesman confirmed that different branches often have varied pricing structures. 

A spokesman said: “Our prices don’t differ greatly but they will differ slightly because of the difference in costs of running the smaller stores."

He continued: “Express stores are typically on the high street, which means Tesco don’t very often own the land. So the overheads involved in running a smaller store are higher.”

Tesco does add, though, that “customers should bear in mind that if they compare our Express stores to other convenience stores ours are still significantly cheaper”. Perhaps that’s a claim we should put to the test. 

If you’ve noticed any inconsistent pricing between any other supermarkets and their convenient high street stores let us know.  And if you have an opinion about any of our findings email me at lois.avery@confused.com or tweet me @confusedlois.

Shopping list

Tesco supermarket

Tesco Express

Offer

Tesco mature cheddar 250g

£1.95

£2.03

Butter (Lurpak)

£2.80

£2.00

2 for £3.00 in larger store

Milk

86p

86p

Eggs x6

£1.56

£1.76

Express only had large at £1.76

Bread (Tesco seeded farmhouse batch)

£1.30

£1.30

Tesco bolognese sauce

95p

99p

Penne pasta 500g

74p

77p

Basmati rice

£1.62

£1.74

Chicken breast x2

£3.00

£3.00

Salmon fillet

£4.00 (240g)

£3.50 (220g)

Different weights

Ready meal – Lasagne

£1.87

£1.98

McCain oven chips

£1.44

£1.50

Pepsi

£1.66

£1.73

2 for £2 in larger store  

Smirnoff vodka

£11.00

£11.00

2 for £20 in larger store

Nescafe coffee 100g jar

£2.49

£2.59

Carrots 500g

65p

68p

Microwave vegetables

£1.00

£1.00

Onions (3 pack)

£1.10

£1.14

Plum tomatoes

£1.50

£1.50

Bananas

87p per kg

21p each

photo by victuallers2

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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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