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This is another way to help you save at the grocery store – so why isn’t the unit price mandatory?

cost of living6:14If you want to save money on food, read the fine print!

The best way to compare prices at the grocery store is to look at the unit price. The teeny, tiny price in the corner of the label tells you how much it costs per gram or liter. However, unlike some other countries, stores are not required to display the unit price in every part of Canada. Jennifer Keane explains why.

Jennifer Cypher comes from a long line of penny-pinchers and used to bring a calculator when grocery shopping with her university roommates.

These days she’s still a careful shopper — but she uses a little-known tool to stretch her dollar and track her spending: unit pricing.

“I like to comparison shop and I like to get value for my money,” she said from Toronto. “I noticed that there was a unit price, and I started using it to make choices at the grocery store.”

Many Canadian stores share the price per 100 grams or 100 milliliters above the retail price of the product, for example, only in Quebec is unit pricing mandatory. In the US, at least 21 states offer unit pricing, 11 of which mandate it by law.

In the most basic terms, unit price is the price per standard unit of measure; This allows easy price comparisons between similar products in different sized containers. That way, you can see if it’s better to buy a 2.5-liter bottle of cleaner or a 1.5-liter bottle.

“It’s a wonderful, powerful tool to help consumers – and to promote competition and generally get better financial results – because it provides information that empowers consumers to make better informed decisions,” said retired economist Ian Jarratt. The cost of living.

There are no national standards

Jarratt, who is with the Queensland Consumers Association, has been advocating for unit pricing in his home country of Australia for two decades.

“There are very large differences in unit price between products and between brands – between pack sizes, between packaged and unpackaged, between special offers and regular prices, between products with high levels of convenience,” he said.

But because there are currently no real standards for how unit pricing is displayed in Canada, it’s not always presented in a consumer-friendly way here, said Jay Jackson, director of policy and strategy at the Consumer Council of Canada.

A gray haired man wearing a blue shirt and navy jacket.
Jay Jackson of the Consumer Council of Canada says unit pricing is a great way for all consumers to comparison shop and save money. (Submitted by Jay Jackson)

Read the small print

Council Studied in 2019* 91 percent of respondents believe that everyone should have access to a unit price label – and 96 percent find unit pricing very useful.

It’s usually in small print on a price tag affixed to a store shelf.

“Some of our focus groups said, ‘First of all, you really have to bend down to see it. You need a magnifying glass,'” Jackson said. “It gives the impression that the retailer doesn’t want you to see it and makes you wonder why they put it there.”

If a retailer has a unit price for some products but not all, that’s a red flag for Cypher when she’s shopping.

“Sometimes I suspect they’re doing it on purpose and trying to keep you from knowing what the prices are.”

Close up of woman with chin length hair, wearing glasses.
Jennifer Cypher says she uses unit pricing to make sure she’s getting the best value for her money when grocery shopping. (Submitted by Jennifer Cypher)

Stores that carry it are conveniently located

Jarratt doesn’t understand why not all retailers want to include it — and let his customers know they do.

“Consumers look favorably on retailers that provide effective unit pricing,” he said. “And they’re likely to continue using the store.”

And people may look at the unit price and buy the more expensive one anyway, especially if they see that the difference isn’t really that great.

A man with short hair stands in front of a shelf of cereal boxes, a serious expression on his face.
Retired economist Ian Jarrett has been fighting for unit pricing in Australia for two decades. (Submitted by Ian Jarrett)

But for those focused on the bottom line, you can’t beat it.

“It’s important, especially for low-income consumers, to be able to know what the lowest price is,” Jackson said. “Brand is not necessarily important to them, but price is. And not just low-income consumers — all consumers, given the way price increases have happened recently.”

A tool to combat ‘shrinkage’

Unit pricing can also be useful for dealing with so-called “shrinkage”—where a company reduces the size of a package by quantity or volume but leaves the price the same.

If you ask people what size their cereal box is, most won’t know off the top of their head, Jarratt said.

“People don’t focus so much on quantity, but they focus on price,” he said.

Two boxes of chai tea on a grocery store shelf, with different price tags in front of them.
Jackson says customers have found that unit pricing is sometimes small and hard to find on price. (Jennifer Keane/CBC)

Cypher agrees.

“I do a lot of grocery shopping,” she said. “I put the order together online, so I find it really helpful to figure out how many things there are in terms of size.”

In Canada, the decision on whether to make unit pricing mandatory rests with each province. Yet decisions have to be made about which standards to follow Guidance has already been developed.

Loblaw, which voluntarily offers unit pricing nationally, told CBC News by email that it is “part of our commitment to help consumers make financially informed choices when purchasing products.”

Carl Littler, senior vice-president of public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, said price is one factor people consider. But they buy based on how many units are in the package, how much storage space they have, and how much they’re going to use before they shop next time — among other things.

And manufacturers already do a lot of testing to see what size packages consumers want, he said.

While Littler said he could see the usefulness of unit pricing, “not everything that appeals is necessarily mandated by law.”

View | How Canadians deal with high food prices:

How do you deal with food inflation?

On the streets of Toronto, several Canadians shared their thoughts on how higher food prices are affecting their household budgets.

However, New Zealand wants to legislate it and it is relevant Consultation on how to come up with a mandatory unit price.

Australia is looking at ways to expand its current unit pricing practices to the level offered in parts of Europe, where it can be found in pharmacies, hardware stores, pet stores – as well as grocers.

“I think it’s more beneficial for consumers,” Jarratt said. “We live in the information age. Why aren’t we providing it to consumers? [a] More important information to help them make more informed choices?”


* Information for the study was collected through an online quantitative survey by Environics Research Group, which included the results of 2,000 respondents in both English and French. The sample was designed to be representative of the Canadian general population aged 18 and over based on age, gender and region from the 2016 Census.

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