Supermarkets have hiked up the price of fresh fruit and vegetables, meaning markets and local shops are up to 35% cheaper for healthy food, an investigation has found.
Fruit and vegetables were more expensive in even the cheapest supermarkets, and especially in the smaller "convenience store" versions of the big superstores, like Sainsbury's Local or Tesco Metro, according to Channel 4's Dispatches programme.
In 32 locations around the country, mystery shoppers visited local markets, independent shops and larger and smaller versions of big brand supermarkets.
Vegetables bought at local markets are often cheaper than supermarkets
Supermarkets were 12% more expensive, and convenience store branches 35% more expensive.
The convenience store branch of their supermarket was 28.9% more expensive than the main branch, with items on average 26% more expensive in Sainsbury’s Locals than in the Sainsbury’s supermarkets and 31% more expensive in Tesco Express than in the larger branches of Tesco.
But most shoppers are still buying their fruit and veg in the supermarket, with shoppers spending £69m in supermarkets, out of £81m spent in total in Britain on fruit last year. £88m out of £105m spent on veg was spent in supermarkets.
In December 2012, as part of a Huffington Post UK investigation into food banks, a single mother-of-three, a recipient of the Trussel Trust's foodbank parcels, said she often avoided buying fruit and vegetables for her children, because they were too expensive.
She said: "We used to live a lot on Iceland frozen food, chicken and chips. I don't want them to eat that rubbish food and they love their fruit and vegetables, which is good, but they are so expensive."
John Denham MP told Channel 4 that supermarkets should hand over price information, to help those who believe they cannot afford to eat heathily: "I want supermarkets to make available all the data they have on the price of their goods, product by product, store by store.
"They already have it internally on their computers but if they make it available that will enable consumers through smart phones and other devices to compare prices of different products in different stores,” he says.
People pass by a Sainsbury's local supermarket in north London
“It's very difficult for consumers to know how much more they're being charged for the convenience or the necessity of using a local store when the big store's some time away….
"That’s the sort of thing you ought to be able to work out on your smartphone and you could actually work out whether it’s worth getting on the bus to go to the cheaper supermarket."
Fresh herbs have sky-high hike-ups in supermarkets, with coriander was 76.98% more expensive at the supermarket convenience store than at the independent seller or 15% more expensive at the supermarket than at the independent seller.
The only item the researchers found that was cheaper was broccoli in a large supermarket, but even that humble veg was 21% more expensive at a supermarket convenience store.
Tesco and Sainsbury's say it is common practice for retailers to charge a small amount more for some products through their convenience store, due to higher operating costs in running these stores.
The investigation, headed by reporter Tazeen Ahmad, will be broadcast Monday night on Channel 4.