I don’t write a column for a few months and all hell breaks loose.

I don’t write a column for a few months and all hell breaks loose. Some are billing it as a price war. I’m inclined to classify it as a succession of modest price Chinese burns.

First up was Tesco’s Big Price Drop, possibly one of the worst kept secrets in retailing history. There has been a fair amount of criticism of the move.

While I’m broadly supportive of the message it sends to shoppers, my main gripe would be the allegation that price reductions were on ‘essential items’ that ‘people buy every day’. Ground almonds? So essential. Barbecue marinade? Yep, I’m buying that every day in October.

Sainsbury’s has hit back with its Brand Match scheme. This is excellent on two levels: its innovative use of technology and its immediacy. It is less than excellent for other reasons, notably the fact that it is for branded products only, effectively ignoring half of the average basket.

I did a £70 brand-heavy shop and got a voucher back for £4, while my usual private-label basket would have come in at less than £60. Again, not so compelling. 

The private-label issue is one that haunts the Asda Price Guarantee too, meaning that huge chunks of the basket can be omitted. While the philosophy of the Guarantee is a masterstroke, the practicalities of completing it can be a chore and a number of commentators have suggested that availability and quality perception issues might be more pressing than ramming home the price message.

Waitrose has piled in with its ‘1,000s of ways to great value’ campaign; comprising Tesco price-matching on 1,000 brands, 1,000 promos a week and about 1,500 Essentials products. This is reassurance indeed for those cash-strapped shoppers buying monkfish and Moët on a budget.

One has to admire the Morrisons approach, with what amounts to the opening of a nationwide chain of 28,000 sq ft fruit machines. The Morrisons Millions promotion is a nice cheerful antidote to the dreary grind of economic misery. Like a pie-filled ray of sunshine.

  • Bryan Roberts, Director of retail insights, Kantar Retail