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Discount supermarkets Universe Club and Hetzi Hinam are the two cheapest chains in Israel, according to a survey conducted by Haaretz. The survey aimed to discover which of the discount food stores can earn bragging rights as the cheapest chain. Clubmarket's Jumbo turned out to be the most expensive of the stores surveyed, charging 12 percent more than Universe Club.

In the unique survey, researchers from the Market Watch institute anonymously visited the stores, filling their baskets with 35 products. Usually, the chains provide prices from a limited list over the phone to the researcher. This method renders those surveys suspect. Moreover, the surveys were conducted in the middle of the week to exclude weekend or holiday bargains.

Market Watch pitted the major chains' discount branches - Clubmarket's Jumbo, Supersol's Cosmos and Universe Club, and Blue Square's Mega - against the private chains Hetzi Hinam and Haviv.

The surveys were conducted in two of the most competitive supermarket areas - the industrial zone of Holon and Yarkonim junction. As a rule, the survey revealed that the branches of the major chains - Supersol, Clubmarket, and Blue Square, were more expensive than the private chains, contrary to their advertis0ed claims, except for Universe Club. Jumbo's jingle, for example, is "Not just cheap, but the cheapest".

The best bargain turned out to be Universe Club in Holon. Kolbo Hetzi Hinam and Hyper-Haviv, both located at Yarkonim junction, came next in line. The Be'erot Yitzhak Jumbo placed last.

The shopping carts at six different branches were filled with 35 selected food, toiletry, and cleaning products available at all the stores. For each product, both expensive and cheaper brands were chosen. For example, the "shoppers" purchased both Hashachar Haoleh and Nutella chocolate spreads.

The institute also conducted a national phone survey to check which supermarket chain is the cheapest in the eyes of the Israeli public. The results revealed that Hetzi Hinam, which operates four stores in central Israel, is considered the cheapest. The results further show that the major chains' multi-million shekel advertising campaigns have failed to alter consumer perceptions.

Still, the survey's findings are not absolute. Universe Club is the cheapest by virtue of its 5 percent discount to members, who pay an annual NIS 97 fee. If one does not want to pay membership dues, Hetzi Hinam takes first place, followed by Haviv. Universe Club members need to spend an average of NIS 1,000 a month to ultimately save more than Hetzi Hinam customers. Moreover, while Universe Club boasts the greatest number of the cheapest products, it tends to run out of stock more often.

While Universe Club resembles a giant warehouse, branches like Hetzi Hinam and Jumbo are designed along the lines of supermarkets abroad. The Hetzi Hinam shopper in Holon can be impressed by rounded and stylish shelves, and decorations that entertain the eye for virtually the same price.

In response to the survey findings, Clubmarket said of its Jumbo subsidiary: "Jumbo is the cheapest chain, as revealed by a price survey that the chain conducts monthly in comparison with the major chains, in which the prices of 500 leading products are checked. Because of the aggressive price wars with competitors, who sometimes sell at a loss, the Yarkonim commercial area does not reflect general prices across the country."