Some supermarket 'value' products are virtually identical to their more expensive standard brand equivalents, a study has found.

A trading standards survey discovered that, despite clever packaging tricks that make standard supermarket-own brands seem more appealing, there were no nutritional differences compared to basic brands in almost half those products sampled.

In fact, 50% of tasters preferred the value products from the sample of goods from Asda, Tesco, Morrisons and Sainsbury's.

The results support research which shows going down one product level (downshifting) could cut a typical family's shopping bill by £850 a year with little taste difference.

The survey conducted by Suffolk trading standards found value apple juice, self-raising flour and cheddar cheese had absolutely no compositional difference from their pricier equivalents.

You you could save £1.49 a week or £77.48 a year by switching to the value versions of those three items.

Supermarkets tend to sell four brand types. From cheapest to most expensive, they are: value, standard (supermarket own), non-supermarket brands (eg, Heinz) and premium supermarket brands (eg, Tesco Finest).

Value range can be worse

However, the study found differences in the content of other products, with those sampled reporting significant taste differences.

For instance, standard tea bags had a substantially higher caffeine content, and there is 50% more pork in standard sausages compared with the value range.

The table below highlights some of Suffolk Trading Standards' findings.

Value vs standard supermarket brands
Product Nutritional difference Taste preference Standard price Value price
Chocolate spread Value: more non-fat cocoa solids Value (83%) £2.50 £1.43
Oven chips None Value (53%) 69p 42p
Chicken kievs Standard: higher in protein, less fat Standard (78%) £2.46 £1.66
Pork sausages Standard: higher in protein and pork. Value: less fat Standard (84%) £3.48 £2.20
Cheddar cheese None Value (83%) £3.94 £3.01
Source: Suffolk Trading Standard. Comparisons based on equivalent weights.

Sarah Nagra, from Suffolk Trading Standards, says: "A lot of people we spoke to thought the higher you paid, the better it was for you. There's just this belief value food isn't good for you, which isn't true, and there's a huge price difference too.

"Some people actually preferred the taste of the value products, so why pay for more expensive ones?"

Based on those findings, a weekly shop of standard cornflakes, teabags, cheese, flour and apple juice would cost £412.88 a year, compared to £258.44 for value brands - a saving of £154.44 annually just for downshifting brands.

Downshift Challenge

MSE's Downshift Challenge encourages consumers to drop one brand level on everything and see if you can tell the difference. If you can't, stick with the cheaper product (see Supermarket shopping).

Downshifting each product by one brand level could cut 33% a year off your shopping bill. That's £1,700 a year on a typical £100 a week shop.

Even by trying this and switching back to costlier brands for the products you feel are better quality, which tends to happen on around half a typical shop, the average family could still save around £850 a year.

Archna Luthra, consumer products analyst, says: "It's no surprise there's little difference between brand levels. Different branding is usually a clever marketing ploy by companies to charm us into spending more.

"Everyone should try the downshift challenge: swap one brand lower on everything and see if you notice the difference. If you don't, great. If you do, swap back. It's a no-brainer."

Further reading/Key links

Slash costs: Cheap Supermarket Shopping, Poundland Mega Bargains, The Great 'Disguised Own Brand' Hunt