Revealed. Hidden discounts in supermarkets’ fresh counters – up to 40% off meat, fish, cheese etc

In our recent blog series we’ve seen how supermarkets often sell the same or near-identical items at different prices in different sections of the same store, including baby aisle bargains and ‘world foods’ savings. Now we’ve uncovered hidden bargains on supermarkets’ fresh counters…

MSE Update Tue 19 Jun 2018: While this blog was published nearly a year ago, the principle still applies. We’ve kept the examples the same below, so some of the prices may now be inaccurate. Be sure to check that the deli counter isn’t cheaper before buying.

We delved into the fresh meat, fish and cheese counters of four supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – and discovered that you could save up to 40% gram for gram for seemingly identical or similar products that are sold both on the fresh counters and down the chiller aisles of the same shop.

And when we say seemingly identical, our findings include a large number of branded groceries – eg, Cathedral City, Pilgrims Choice, and supermarkets’ premium brands such as Tesco Finest and Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference – suggesting you could be overpaying for essentially the same item, sold and packaged slightly differently.

Some of our examples were on offer at the time we did our research, but we’ve still included them as the same principle applies. It’s also worth noting that we did all of our research in stores, over a few weeks, so the prices below may be different to your local store’s.

What we found in the fresh counters…

Unlike pre-packaged aisle items, fresh counter goods are priced per 100g, and you can buy whatever weight (or amount, eg, slices) you like – so to demonstrate our findings, we’ve worked out how much each fresh counter item would cost if it weighed the same as its aisle equivalent.

We found 11 same-brand groceries and 14 similar that were up to 42% cheaper on the fresh counters (see all in table below).

We’ve picked out a few examples:

Morrisons roast topside beef 42% cheaper – £1.26 for 80g on the fresh counter and £2.15 for 80g down the aisle.

Tesco Finest outdoor-bred roast ham on the bone 25% cheaper – £2.25 for £125g on the fresh counter and £3 for 125g down the aisle.

Sainsbury’s fish pie mix 14% cheaper – £3 for 300g on the fresh counter and £3.50 for 300g down the aisle.

Tesco’s President brie 11% cheaper – £1.70 for 200g on the fresh counter and £1.90 for 200g down the aisle.

Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference pork sausages 10% cheaper – £2.25 for 400g on the fresh counter and £2.50 for 400g down the aisle.

Product (and shop where we saw it) Price
Fresh counter Aisle¹
Tesco Finest outdoor-bred roast ham on the bone £2.25 for 125g £3 for 125g
Tesco Finest manchego cheese £2.89 for 175g £3 for 175g
Tesco Finest Swiss Greyere cheese £2.89 for 195g £3 for 195g
Tesco Finest Mature blue stilton £2.58 for 215g £2.75 for 215g
Cathedral City Mature Cheddar (Tesco) £1.75 for 350g £2.50 for 350g
President French Brie (Tesco) £1.70 for 200g £1.90 for 200g
Pilgrims Choice Mature cheddar (Tesco) £1.93 for 350g £3 for 350g
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference outdoor-bred pork boneless pork loin steaks £2.40 for 300g £3.50 for 300g
Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference outdoor-bred pork sausages £2.25 for 400g £2.50 for 400g
Sainsbury's Taste the Difference Cumberland pork sausages £2.25 for 400g £2.50 for 400g
Tickler extra mature cheddar (Sainsbury's) £2.45 for 350g £3.50 for 350g
Jumbo Greek Kalamata olives (Sainsbury's) £255 for 170g £3 for 170g
Boneless cod loin (Sainsbury's) £3.18 for 212g £4.35 for 212g
Smoked haddock fillets (Sainsbury's) £3.96 for 240g £4 for 240g
Fish pie mix (Sainsbury's) £3 for 300g £3.50 for 300g
Ricotta stuffed cherry peppers (Sainsbury's) £3.23 for 170g £3.40 for 170g
Nocellara olives (Sainsbury's) £2.18 for 145g £2.70 for 145g
Roast topside beef (Morrisons) £1.26 for 80g £2.15 for 80g
Salmon fillets (Morrisons) £3.90 for 260g £4.97 for 260g
Smoked salmon fillets (Morrisons) £3.22 for 240g £3.97 for 240g
Manchengo (Morrisons) £2.54 for 175g £3 for 175g
Salami Milano (Morrisons) £1.14 for 80g £1.18 for 80g
Haddock fillets (Asda) £3.05 for 306g £3.96 for 306g
Smoked haddock fillets (Asda) £3.01 for 274g £3.82 for 274g
Plaice fillets (Asda) £2.38 for 280g £3.40 for 280g
¹ All comparisons have the same near-identical name labelling

Fresh counters tend to be found in larger superstores, as opposed to smaller ‘express’ or ‘local’ stores. However, some big stores might not have fresh counters – so this may not always work.

How we did our research

To keep our examples as fair as possible, we’ve tried to compare the same or similar groceries. For branded comparisons, the label names of each item were almost identical, but worded slightly differently (see images above). For non-branded comparisons, we focused on items where only one version can be found in the aisle – and again, we only chose items with almost identical labelling.

Of course, there may be differences in some of these groceries – where and how they are farmed and produced – but where these details have been provided, we’ve taken them into account with our comparisons.

Is it worth switching to the fresh counters?

The majority of the items we looked at were cheaper on the fresh counters, but we also spotted many items that were cheaper down the aisles, eg, salmon fillets at Asda, Edam cheese at Morrisons and marinated anchovies at Sainsbury’s – so always check both the fresh counters and the aisles. While some savings might be small, we’re talking about items that are the essentially same or very similar, so we reckon it’s definitely worth checking out.

More supermarket savings

See our 36 supermarket shopping tips to cut the cost of your supermarket shop, including extreme couponing, an app to eat your neighbours’ food for free and the MSE Downshift challenge, where you swap branded items for cheaper own-brands. Plus, see our supermarket coupons page for all the latest coupons.

Have you spotted any bargains on supermarkets’ fresh counters? We’d love to hear your thoughts and findings in our supermarkets’ fresh counters forum thread or in the comments below.