When was the last time you checked the price differences for basic grocery items at the store? It may be a lot larger than you think, according to a recent survey of food prices by the Israel Consumer Council. Just the gap between the highest and lowest priced fusilli-shaped pasta at different stores across the country goes as high as 672%.
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Altogether, the council examined the prices of five basic food items at 160 different stores across the country on September 2-3. The items in the survey were Persian-style, canola oil, fusilli-shaped pasta, pitted green olives and 5% feta cottage cheese.
While not as bad as the pasta, prices for a 1-kilo bag of Persian rice varied 439%, from NIS 4.02 to NIS 21.65 among the stores examined. Canola oil varied 246%, from NIS 6.99 to NIS 24.20.
One contributing factor behind these wide spreads in prices is that the large supermarket chains in Israel are not obligated to publicize their prices, making it harder for consumers to compare prices ahead of time. The council even found that wide gaps in prices for the same food brands existed between stores, leading it to conclude that prices for items at each store branch were determined based on store location and the shortage or abundance of competition for food shoppers in the area.
Store brands also are not necessarily the cheapest one or even the same price at different chain locations, the consumer council found.
"The price isn't determined just by the quality or taste [of an item], but primarily by the business sector's sense for profit, which indicates what is the maximal profits that can be milked out of consumers for that product at that sale point, says Israel Consumer Council CEO Ehud Peleg.
He added that appropriate consumer response to such wide differences in prices was to abandon the habit of automatic purchasing, and instead price-shopping before even leaving the house, then choosing to go to stores that offered lower prices. This, he said, would give consumers another tool to make their grocery bills cheaper.