Can you really taste the difference?

Supermarket shopping is fraught with choice. You won’t just find chicken breasts, for example, but budget, standard, premium and organic options — all at different prices. To see how these principal ranges compare, the Times
Money team blind-tested eight common items in each range at four
supermarkets for taste and satisfaction.

In the process, we found that the cheapest beefburgers tasted of cardboard or worse. Beyond that, nothing was as expected — and we learnt a number of lessons that could change the way you shop.

Organic doesn’t taste better

The most striking finding of our survey was that the organic ranges scored worst, or joint worst, at three out of the four supermarkets tested — being rated less tasty and satisfying than even the budget ranges at Waitrose, Tesco and Asda at about twice the price. At Sainsbury’s, organic goods came a poor third to Taste the Difference and standard.

Organic products that did badly included Waitrose’s baked beans at 61p per can, which scored an average of 4.6 out of 10, against 7.4 for the store’s Essential baked beans — rated “everything a bean should be” — at 48p. According to our five tasters, the organic beans were “too sweet” and had “a nasty aftertaste”.

Organic apples were another letdown, tasting worse than budget options at Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury’s. The latter’s organic apples scored 4 and “tasted of cotton wool”.

Cheap can be cheerful

A second finding was that two of the four budget ranges offered great value. The Waitrose Essential range came top of all ranges tested at all four stores, with an average score of 6.6 out of 10 per item, against 5.6 for the supermarket’s standard and premium ranges and 5.5 for its organic range. It was much cheaper, too, at £14.91 for our basket of eight items, against £23.08 in the standard range. Essential chicken breasts, broccoli, baked beans, yoghurt and tea bags outperformed their equivalents in the other Waitrose ranges.

Meanwhile, Tesco’s Value range outperformed its standard range, with an average rating of 5.3, against 5.2, and at £10.16 per basket, against £13.58.

Asda’s Smartprice range was not as tasty as its standard range, averaging 5.1 points against 5.7 — but cost only £9.87 per basket, against £13.43. It was let down by “vomit-inducing” burgers and “tasteless, grey” tea. However, Smartprice baked beans and apples beat the store’s other ranges, and the latter came top of all those tested, with 7 points.

Sainsbury’s Basics was the cheapest of all ranges tested, at only £8.42 per basket. However, the average score was by far the lowest at 4.2, with only one of the items (broccoli) being rated above 5. The beefburgers came out worst of all products tested, scoring an abysmal 1.8 and being described as “horrid” with “a grim aftertaste”.

Premium isn’t quality

The premium ranges at Sainsbury’s and Tesco scored notably better than their standard ranges — despite several blips, such as the latter’s Finest apples, which scored a feeble 4.8 points at a cost of £2.19 for four.

However, the average score for premium products at Waitrose was the same as its standard range (and worse than its Essentials products). Asda’s Extra Special range was beaten by its standard offerings, at an average of 5.5 points against 5.7.

Standard wine is fine

Our tasters found little difference between standard and premium range white wine. At Sainsbury’s a bottle of South African chenin blanc at £3.49 rated the same 6.6 as a bottle of Taste the Difference Chilean sauvignon blanc at £5.99. Meanwhile, at Asda a bottle of Cape chenin blanc at £3.30 rated the same 6.4 as a bottle of Extra Special chablis at £8.98. At Tesco, a bottle of Chilean sauvignon blanc at £3.22 scored 6.2 — 0.8 points more than its Finest pinot grigio at £5.97.

Budget options offered a small saving, but a significant drop in quality, with one exception — Asda’s Smartprice La Comida at £2.38, which scored a fair 5.8. The Sainsbury’s Basics and Tesco Value options both scored below 5.

Budget tea isn’t

With the exception of the Waitrose Essential option, budget tea scored
significantly worse than the other ranges — albeit for a considerable saving in price. Asda Smartprice tea bags at 28p for 80 were named and shamed as the worst, scoring 3 out of 10 on average. Tesco’s Value bags at the same price scored 4 points with the comments “tasteless” and “not good”.

The best-rated teas were Tesco Finest and Asda Gold, with scores of 6.8 and 6.2 respectively. The former, at £1.54 for 80 tea bags, was described by one taster as having “good body and aroma and reassuring consistency”.

Waitrose wins

As mentioned above, the best-rated of all ranges tested was Waitrose
Essential, averaging 6.6 points at a cost of £14.91 per basket — a saving of £8.17 on its standard range and in line with standard-range prices elsewhere. Ratings were consistently good.

Of the cheaper ranges, the closest to Essential on score was Asda’s standard range, with an average of 5.7 at £13.43 per basket. The budget ranges at Tesco and Asda featured some strong products and were pulled down by a few duds. On average, across all the ranges, Waitrose scored highest.

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