Britain's second biggest supermarket Asda is the latest to attack its competitors for using "unsustainable" voucher promotions to prop up flagging sales.
Asda accused its rivals of using gimmicks to confuse shoppers into making purchases as it reported a slowdown in its own underlying sales growth in the second quarter, but better half-year profits. Tesco boss Philip Clarke is on record as saying that Britain's biggest grocer had been slow to match its competitors on vouchers last Christmas. Clarke said Tesco had responded aggressively since.
But Asda, which is a proponent of 'every day low pricing', is not alone in criticising other retailers for opaque promotional pricing. Health professionals and politicians are increasingly getting into the act.
"I understand people want access to cheap food, particularly cheap protein," said shadow environment secretary Mary Creagh . "But I would argue that some supermarkets are better than others at their prices."
'Lack of pricing transparency'
Creagh was particularly critical of the lack of pricing transparency in some supermarkets: "When you have 'two-for-one' offers it is not clear what the pricing structure is. And [supermarkets] are under no legal obligation to price clearly so that you can work out the price per kilo or 100gm in a 'two-for-one' offer.
"So it is difficult for shoppers to compare whether they are getting good value in some of these areas and I think there is more that can be done with regard to pricing in the supermarkets."
Last May Food Manufacture reported that supermarkets had apologised for some 'dodgy' price promotions, following a report from the consumer group Which? Which? found evidence of some 'money-saving' multi-buys that were cheaper to purchase as individual items, limited 'offers' on sale for longer than the original price, artificially inflated tickets immediately before a reduction, and others that incorrectly stated the 'usual price'.
Subsequently, Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury, along with home delivery service Ocado, issued apologies for the "human error", which they claimed had led to the mistakes. However, the incident prompted calls for tighter government guidelines on promotional tactics to protect consumers.
Retailers have also come under flak in the past for promotions that push 'unhealthy' foods at the expense of healthier products. Earlier in the year, Ed Garner, communications director at market research company Kantar Worldpanel, said saturated fat was the most highly promoted ingredient on supermarket shelves, with 40% of products bought on promotion in 2011 being high in saturated fat.
"There are more fats than a year ago," Garner told a health claims event organised by the Food and Drink Innovation Network. "It is the most highly promoted category."