'Please explain': Woolworths shopper confused by bizarre pricing

Josh Dutton
·News Reporter

An Adelaide man is confused as to why Woolworths charges less for a product wrapped in plastic.

Jase Evans posted photos of sweet potatoes on Thursday with their price tags along with “please explain?”

The loose ones are marked at $5 per kilogram while the packaged ones are $4 per kg.

“Shame Woolworths shame,” he wrote.

“Packaged with plastic cheaper than raw product.”

Sweet potatoes are seen on two Woolworths shelves. Ones wrapped in plastic are $4 per kilogram and loose ones are priced $5 per kilogram.
There's confusion over why loose sweet potatoes cost more than pre-packaged ones. Source: Facebook/Jase Evans

He also posted a screenshot of a message he claims he sent to Woolworths in 2018 which “proves they have done nothing” about plastic.

“Um, don’t you think this should be the other way around?” he wrote.

One man called it “poor form” on the supermarket’s behalf.

Woolworths explains prices of packaged and loose produce

In July, David Camm posted photos of sweet potatoes from a Woolworths in Tamworth NSW asking the same question.

However, the packaged ones he photographed were on sale.

On Woolworths’ website, loose gold sweet potatoes are priced at $5 per kg, and at $4 per kg pre-packaged.

A Woolworths spokesperson told Yahoo News Australia the supermarket understands “many customers” want it to reduce plastic packaging and it’s “working hard to do just that”.

The spokesperson said the loose sweet potatoes are of a higher grade than the ones in plastic packaging “and this is reflected in the price”.

Woolworths aims to reduce plastic packaging

“Over the last two years, we have removed around 1000 tonnes of plastic from our fruit and veg and bakery ranges,” the spokesperson said.

An employee arranges lettuces on display inside a Woolworths grocery store in Brisbane.
Woolworths said it's looking at ways to reduce plastic packaging in stores. Source: AAP (file pic)

“We have also rolled out REDcycle facilities in all our stores, which allows customers to return soft plastics, including fruit and veg packaging, to our stores to be recycled.

“We recognise there is more to do, and will continue to look for new ways to reduce plastic packaging across our range.”

One of the moves Woolworths recently made was re-introducing paper shopping bags.

The spokesperson added the gold sweet potatoes in packaging “are a key value line for shoppers on a budget”.

“The tray is made from sugarcane and bamboo pulp and can either be composted or kerbside recycled, and the outer packaging can be recycled through the REDcycle program,” the spokesperson said.

Why are fruit and vegetables often cheaper in packets?

Retail expert Professor Gary Mortimer from Queensland University of Technology told Yahoo News Australia there are a “couple of reasons” why packaged fruit and veg is cheaper than loose.

“The reason why we see a variance is the cost to fill loose fruit and vegetables is higher than putting say 20 containers of one-kilogram boxes onto a shelf,” Professor Mortimer said.

“Stocking shelves with loose fruit and veg is a difficult, slow process.”

Professor Mortimer said supermarkets receive fruit and veg packaged or loose. They don’t package the items themselves.

On Woolworths’ website, Granny Smith apples packaged are $4.50 and $4.90 loose.

Red onions are $3.50 per kg loose but cost 50 cents cheaper in a 1kg bag.

On Coles’ website, Granny Smith apples are 10c cheaper for a 1kg bag than they are loose.

A shopper looks at produce in the fruit and vegetable section inside a Woolworths grocery store in Brisbane.
Retail expert Professor Gary Mortimer says the reason packaged fruit and veg is cheaper is due to the labour involved stocking the displays. Source: AAP (file pic)

Professor Mortimer added replenishing the shelves for the loose food is also costly.

“We’re also creatures of habit,” he said.

“We look at fruit and vegetables and study them for quality. With packaged ones you don’t get that choice.

“The loose ones we’ll look at and leave the bad ones on the shelf. Since we don’t have that choice with pre-packaged items there’s no food waste.”

Professor Mortimer said while it’s a “shame” the items come in plastic, supermarkets would do the same regardless of what they were wrapped in.

A study by consumer advocate group Choice last year studied which was cheaper between loose and pre-packaged produce.

Choice looked at Coles, Aldi and Woolworths and found loose produce was cheapest 53 per cent of the time.

A shopper inspects fruit inside a Woolworths grocery store in Brisbane.
In most cases, buying fruit loose is cheaper than buying it packaged, according to Choice. Source: AAP (file pic)

“Significant savings can be had on buying loose chillies in particular, with bird's eye chillies priced at about $21 per kg compared with $150 per kg pre-packed,” according to the study.

“Jarlsberg cheese slices from the deli were also about half the price of their pre-packed version at both Coles and Woolies.”

However, 35 per cent of the time pre-packaged produce was found to be cheaper.

“Some items were cheaper in the packaged format in both Coles and Woolworths – carrots, mixed lettuce leaves, limes, onions (brown and red), sweet potatoes, washed potatoes – so it's worth buying these products pre-packed if saving money is a priority,” Choice said.

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