It hardly feels as though Brunel’s Costcutter cuts costs - and now we know why after an investigation by Le Nurb found that the university charges up to 55% more for basic groceries when compared with an independent store just minutes from campus.
The university was also found to be charging customers up to 200% more for items advertised as being on offer or promotion elsewhere in the Costcutter network of stores.
Among the everyday purchases found to be more expensive at Brunel, semi-skimmed milk was found to be 55% dearer at Costcutter than the local store on High Street, Cowley. Brunel Costcutter charged £1.55 for the 1.27 litre, four-pint bottle, while the local store charged just £1.
Eggs had a mark-up of almost 27% when compared with the nearby store - despite being the exact same size and brand. 6 medium sized, Heritage brand eggs cost £1.89 at Brunel and £1.49 at the local store.
Among the other price differences were Pepsi 2 litre bottles - priced almost 24% dearer at Brunel, a Ristorante frozen pizza - with a 14% mark-up, and a 1.5l bottle of Volvic mineral water - 11% dearer at Brunel.
Out of the 10 everyday items surveyed, eight were cheaper at the local independent store and one was the same price at both Brunel Costcutter and the local store.
It’s good news for sandwich fans though as the one item found to be cheaper at Brunel was a 100g pack of sliced ham.
All of the products surveyed were directly comparable and only items with the same pack size were included in the research.
The local store is of a similar size to Brunel’s Costcutter and is already well known to Brunel students for its highly competitive alcohol prices.
Differences in price were not limited to basic groceries, however, with many special offers advertised nationally by Costcutter not passed onto customers at Brunel. An offer on Maryland chocolate-chip cookies, which saw customers of other Costcutter stores benefit from a ‘buy one, get two free deal’, was not made available by the university.
This meant that, over the promotion period, every purchase of the cookies at Brunel saw a 200% difference in price when compared with other Costcutters and advertisements on TV and online.
Customers encountered a 109% mark-up on the price of 2 litre bottles of Pepsi after a £1 deal wasn’t replicated at Brunel, and the absence of an advertised two for £3 deal on 1 litre bottles of Tropicana orange juice meant customers at Brunel paid 72% more.
Responding to Le Nurb’s findings, the university says it would like to “reassure” students that it “works hard to provide better value for money and improve the overall student experience.”
However it said that the “challenges” of being a small retailer mean that it can’t replicate the pricing of other stores, including those in the Costcutter network. The university said its Costcutter store runs promotions “aimed at improving student welfare” such as a £3.49 meal deal, a range of halal foods and cleaning products.
It pointed out offers available at its store, which was not advertised by Costcutter, included a two for £3 deal on branded bags of rice, a promotion on tea bags and a bottle of bleach for £1.
Costcutter Supermarkets declined to comment and referred Le Nurb to the university’s response. In a written response to Le Nurb, Tracy Strachan, Brunel's Director of Commercial Services wrote:
“We do value and act on the feedback of our customers and have recently launched an online customer survey… we will be addressing the concerns raised by customers through the survey and directly to us.
“As a University Store, any profits we do make are reinvested into the University which works towards improving the wider services we are able to offer to our students.”