Is Essentials Really Essential?

As students, Essentials has come to our rescue countless times. The not-for-profit shop run by Leeds University Union claims to stock ‘all the essentials you need for Uni life’ as well as a range of Fairtrade goods and local produce. Although the convenience of Essentials is perfect, the price tag of some of the items leaves a lot to be desired. 

Many students have criticised our own Union shop for being too expensive and failing to provide students with reasonably priced goods that can often be bought from other supermarkets for a fraction of the price. Considering the cost of tuition fees, student housing and study supplies, every penny saved on food and household goods counts. We conducted a price comparison to find out the truth for ourselves.

To ensure a fair comparison, we compared the prices of only branded products in Essentials and leading larger supermarkets. Our basket wasn’t scientifically chosen; we took a typical student approach by not food shopping for half a week and impulse buying what we considered essential at the time. We also excluded any offers on products and used the standard price of items to ensure fairness of comparison (it should be noted that other supermarkets had reduced offers on some of our chosen products, whereas Essentials offered none). All prices are correct as of 05/11/18.

Overall, our basket of shopping was considerably more expensive at Essentials, costing around £4.00 more when compared to other chains. Although this cost seems small, over time, this extra £4.00 expense could leave students significantly worse off.

The most shocking price comparison was Tampax tampons; although other leading supermarkets have allocated the same lower price of £1.90 for a box of 20, Essentials is offering the same product for £2.05. Although the Union has been supporting the provision of free tampons in three Union bathrooms, it’s particularly ironic that Essentials would knowingly stock more expensive sanitary products. Furthermore, Pot Noodle retailed at 50 pence more than the cheapest competitor, Sainsbury’s. Of our chosen products, only Twinings tea bags were cheaper than alternative retailers, helping students to save a whopping 1 penny per 100 tea bags.

Speaking on student concerns over Essentials, Chris Morris, Union Affairs Officer, said:

We know that getting the best deals and value for money is often on students’ minds and when it comes to the prices in Essentials, we don’t always offer the cheapest deals in the city. We try our best to keep prices as low as possible, however our price setting is sometimes restricted by what is offered by our suppliers. LUU is exploring other models and plans when it comes to running a Union shop to ensure students can get the best value, deals and range of products they possibly can whilst in our building.

When it comes to the sale of sanitary products, LUU sell at the lowest we can with no markup. We currently sell a pack of 20 Co-op tampons for 85p, however we do struggle to keep the price of Tampax-branded tampons the same as in larger supermarkets.

Value for money and the welfare of members is one of LUU’s top priorities, and we will continue to work on making sure everything we do has a positive impact on students.

On the one hand, larger retailers do stock more and often bulk buy, which reduces unit cost; these savings can then be passed on to the consumer. However, for a not-for-profit supermarket with a supposed student focus, Essentials is on average far more expensive when considering the items we wanted to purchase. As a student on a budget, I have to shop elsewhere as I have no confidence in my own Union shop to prioritise my financial welfare as a student.

Charlie Kirby