How supermarkets hide cheaper items in the baby aisle

Supermarkets and pharmacies hide some of their best bargains in the quieter aisles, so we’re on a march to uncover their tricks. This week, we’re looking at the baby aisle.

MSE Update 3pm Tue 19 Jun 2018: While this blog was published over a year ago, the principle still applies, and we've updated all the prices and examples below. A big success from our baby aisle investigation is Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose dropping the price of their cosmetic cotton buds as a result (see our news story).

We’ve discovered a host of bargains including cotton buds, cotton wool, wet wipes and nappy/poo bags that can all be found in the baby aisle at significantly lower prices than similar or near-identical alternatives elsewhere in the same shop – and you don’t need to be a new parent to save. We’ve found this pattern at major stores, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Boots.

While we’ve only picked a handful of examples, this seems to be a trend across many supermarkets and pharmacies that sell baby products. See our supermarket guide for loads more tricks.

Cotton buds 75% cheaper for seemingly the same product

We found a pack of 300 cotton buds for 55p in the baby aisle at Tesco. The buds look and feel the same as the pack of 200 that cost £1.50 in the cosmetics aisle, effectively making the baby aisle 75% cheaper – 18p per 100 buds compared with 75p per 100 in the cosmetics aisle.

Can you tell the difference (in the buds, not the packaging, of course)?

Upon further inspection, these two products were both made in Poland, which may mean they came off the same Tesco production line. We asked Tesco, but it declined to comment on this.

More seemingly identical products for less

After we found the cotton buds, we investigated and spotted a few more examples of products that look identical to the pricier version sold elsewhere in the same shop. There may be small differences, but to many they are essentially the same thing:

    Product (and shop we saw it in)

Price
Baby aisle Other aisle
Cotton buds (Tesco) 55p for 300 (18p per 100 buds) £1.50 for 200 (75p per 100 buds)
Cotton wool balls (Boots) £1.65 for 200 £1.60 for 100
Cotton wool pads (Boots) £1.15 for 100 £1.85 for 100

Similar (if not identical) products for much less

We’ve also seen a range of items that do the same job as their counterpart but with very different prices in the same store. While these products might not be the same, many would be happy to swap out for a cheaper option to do the same/similar thing.

Staff at MSE Towers have already swapped Johnson’s make-up wipes for Johnson’s baby wipes, dog poop bags for nappy bags and Dove soap for Johnson’s baby soap with few complaints, and as you can see from the table below, these swaps can save you a packet.

Another example is Vaseline. We know it’s a brand so you’d expect it to be more expensive than a pack of ‘petroleum jelly’, but in the baby aisle at Sainsbury’s we could only find an own-brand alternative, and elsewhere in the same store we could only find the pricier Vaseline. There may be small differences, but they essentially do the same thing. So by downshifting your brand, you can get a lot more for the same amount.

Here’s what we found:

Product (shop we saw it in)¹ Price
Baby aisle Other aisle
Petroleum jelly (Sainsbury’s) £1.50 for 150g (£1 per 100g) £1.50 for a 50g tub of Vaseline (£3 per 100g)
Wipes (Tesco) £1.30 for 56 Johnson’s baby wipes (2p per wipe) £2.50 for 25 Johnson’s make-up wipes (10p per wipe)
Nappy sacks/dog poo bags (Sainsbury’s) 80p for 75 nappy sacks (1p per sack) £1.10 for 50 dog poo bags (2p per bag)
Bath sponges (Asda) 50p for 2 60p for 2
Antibacterial hand gel (Tesco) £1.30 for a 100ml tub of Milton’s (£1.30 per 100ml) £1.10 for a 50ml tub of Carex (£2.20 per 100ml)
Bar soap (Sainsbury’s) £1 for a 4x100g pack of Johnson’s baby soap £2.40 for a 4x100g pack of Dove soap
Dove moisturising lotion (Asda) £1.90 for a 200ml bottle of Dove baby moisturising lotion (95p per 100ml) £4.70 for a 250ml bottle of Dove moisturising lotion (£1.88 per 100ml)
¹ All products own-brand unless otherwise stated

Is the swap worth it?

Of course, it’s up to you whether you wanted to ditch the more expensive products, but the alternatives can really save you money over time if you opt to check the baby aisle. Buying ‘baby products’ might not always be cheapest but there’s no harm in checking first.

Aside from the baby section, there are other aisle swaps you can make to save yourself some cash in the supermarket. We've blogged around a number of other supermarket hacks, including buying in the world food aisle, saving money at the deli counter, how buying 'Thins' is thinning your wallet, and how crouching down can save you cash.

Let us know what you’ve seen in the comments below, on Twitter @MSE_Deals or on Facebook.