Bread to loo roll: How do prices in the UK compare with the five EU countries

  • By Emma Simpson & Danielle Codd
  • BBC business correspondent and producer

image source, Getty Images

Loo roll, butter and ketchup are more expensive in the UK compared to some of our biggest European neighbours, research for the BBC suggests.

But the UK is the cheapest for nappies and frozen pizza, consumer analysts Circana have found.

We compared the prices of 23 food and non-food items in France, Germany, the UK, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

When we added up the cost of buying them all, we found Germany to be the cheapest and France the most expensive.

Our snapshot indicated that UK customers typically paid £3.80 per roll, when a comparable pack costs £2.66 in Italy and £2.87 in Germany.

Canned fish – such as tuna – usually costs £1.62 in the UK, but is as high as £3.15 in Italy and £2.51 in Spain.

However, the data also revealed that items such as bread, eggs and cooking oil were mostly cheaper in the UK.


The UK’s major supermarkets have denied they are making extraordinary profits from high prices, and many have already cut prices on items such as bread and butter. But Circan’s Ananda Roy thinks retailers can go further.

“The prospect of UK households continuing to pay more than they are paying now, even as inflation levels off, is unsustainable for many,” said global senior vice president for strategic growth.

“With commodity prices continuing to fall, retailers and brands have the potential to do more for hard-pressed UK consumers,” added Mr Roy.

A recent survey by Oxford Economics found that food costs in the UK are around 7% below the EU average. But this applies to a large number of countries.

We asked Circana, which specializes in consumer data analysis, to look at some specific products in the countries with the largest and most developed economies in the European Union.

“While we experience higher prices for some everyday items in the UK, we also pay less than our European counterparts for others,” said Mr Roy.

However, trying to compare the price of food between countries is “super complicated”, said William Woods, who covers the European food market as an analyst at Bernstein.

There are a number of factors that can influence why food prices can vary.

The level of competition is important. In Germany, more than 40% of the market is made up of discount supermarkets with cheaper own-brand products. Differences in dietary habits and levels of food production must also be taken into account.

The UK imports around 40% of its food. Circana’s Mr Roy said this meant they were paying a “buyer’s premium” in what is now an increasingly volatile supply chain. Brexit didn’t help.

Then there’s politics. In other words, taxation, subsidies and regulation. In France, for example, more protection for producers can cause higher food prices in stores, Woods said.

Mr. Roy and his team at Circana looked at unit cost based on comparable pack sizes across the category.

The price you see in the charts is an average across all different product types including branded and non-branded items. The euro costs were then converted to pounds using the Bank of England exchange rate.

Data are for March. In the UK, it does not include discounters Aldi and Lidl, which account for 17% of the UK grocery sector. However, research covers approximately 80% of the market in each of the other five countries.

This is a small snapshot. For example, there is no fresh fruit and vegetable that was too difficult to compare due to the seasonality, size and quantity of produce grown domestically.

The chart above shows the total price difference for the 23 products we counted. Germany is the cheapest, £20 less than France, which is way ahead. Our store is the third cheapest in this league table, in fact it is quite similar to Italy, Spain and the Netherlands.

Andrew Opie of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said: “This survey confirms that British consumers are benefiting from a highly competitive market that delivers some of the cheapest food in Europe.

“We believe it underestimates the savings that UK consumers make when buying staples, including fresh produce, as well as the value that consumers can find in shopping, which is another benefit of the strong competition in the UK market.”

Food price inflation, the rate at which prices change, affects every European country.

Roy said inflation had moderated in recent weeks in Germany, the Netherlands and Spain, where prices had risen earlier than in the UK. He expects the UK to follow suit in the next few months.

How can I save money at the grocery store?

  • Look in your closets to see what you already have
  • Head to the shrink section first to see if it has anything you need
  • Buy things that are close to their sell-by date, which will be cheaper, and use the freezer

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