Are supermarket own brand products cheaper because they're poor quality, and less healthy? A quick bit of detective work uncovered a surprise and an interesting bit of economics.
Nestlé Curiously Cinnamons (aka Golden Grahams) are a roaring success in our house, the children basically inhale them and unless we buy them in industrial quantities they're gone in a matter of days. But this week we bought a box of Tesco Cinnamon Squares, a cheaper supermarket own brand equivalent, so I decided to compare.
|Tesco's beaver takes on Nestlé's crazy squares|
They are basically the same, and both are tasty. The Tesco version tastes slightly less sweet, which we marginally preferred, but it has a noticeably firmer texture which immediately set alarm bells ringing: the texture is fine, but salt is used in cereal to stop it going limp (the same reason you find it in bread). Cereal manufacturers have been under pressure to reduce salt levels and there's been much research into cutting salt without leaving a droopy product. Is Tesco selling an older, salt-laden recipe as a cheaper own-brand product? I decided to check.
Here's the nutritional info from the two boxes, showing grams per 100g (also known as "per cent by weight" for those of us with advanced statistical skills...)
|- Of which sugars||32.1||26|
|- Of which saturates||3.8||4|
Jumping straight to the salt, the answer is exactly the opposite of what I expected: the Tesco version has 60% less salt than Nestlé's. Blimey, big win for Tesco. In fact, if you compare the other items you find that Tesco's product has more protein, more fibre, less sugar and less fat than Nestlé. That's a slam-dunk; not what I expected at all. A hearty cheer for Tesco and a salty boo for Nestlé!
We bought Curiously Cinnamon in a 565g pack ("big value pack") and Cinnamon Squares in 375g, so I've converted both into a price per Kg. Both were bought from Tesco yesterday.
Tesco Cinnamon Squares: £3.79 per kg
Nestlé Curiously Cinnamon: £6.00 per kg
So Nestlé are looking for a ~60% price premium for a nutritionally inferior product. When companies talk about the value of a brand, this is what they mean - they can charge a significantly higher price for a product that's no better, it may even be inferior, and people will happily pay it because they assume premium brand = premium product. Only geeks like me read the tiny numbers on the side of the packet and compare them between products to decide which is actually better.
There is a final point which also goes in Tesco's favour.
The back of the Nestlé box features two enormous adverts for other Nestlé products: their Curiously Cinnamon cereal bar, and Curiously Strawberry cereal.
On the back of the beaver-themed Tesco box there are 3 beaver jokes, a Fix The Dam shape puzzle, 4 anagrams to solve, 2 beaver facts and a recipe for a marshmallow and Cinnamon Square fridge cake called Chewy Squares.
|Nestlé on left, Tesco on right|
It's not a decisive point, but it's a bonus to have something interesting and vaguely educational for children to look at rather than a massive advert, and compiling these things takes time and effort which all has to go into the production cost. Yet it's the cheaper own brand product which shows more care and attention, and a less nakedly commercial outlook.
I think this might be the last box of Curiously Cinnamons we buy.
Just to make it clear, I've no interest in Nestlé or Tesco, and I don't know anyone who works for either company. I'm just describing what I saw on my breakfast table this morning.