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Foodstuff costs compared, UK vs US

Some two years ago, I wrote a cost comparison entry for basic UK-vs-US costs. It was based on generalizations rather than some hard data, but I hope it was useful for someone.

Having now been back in the States for a few months, I am probably due an updated treatise on the subject. And, predictably, I find it hard to work up any sort of enthusiasm for an exercise of this kind. Fortunately, my lovely wife has come to my rescue, at least partially. She made quite a few references in these past months that she finds some foodstuff costs to be higher in the US compared to what we knew in the UK, and she graciously agreed to perform a sort of analysis, which I now present for my audience.

A few important notes. One, the comparison is between suburban New Jersey (Middlesex/Monmouth counties, to be precise) and outer edges of Greater London (Lewisham/Greenwich boroughs); it is more than likely than the prices will be different the closer you get to Central London or if you put New York City into the equation. Two, the exchange rate has been holding relatively steady between $1.6-1.7 per pound sterling; I am going to use 1.7 for the conversion. Three, as noted in comments to that old post, UK local salaries are generally numerically lower than respective US ones, which means that proportional outlay for any given product may actually be higher even when the absolute cost is lower; for the purposes of this highly scientific study, we will imagine ourselves receiving a US-based salary, as if we were on an expat package.

Without further ado.

A loaf of bread can be bought for 67p ($1.14) in a mini-mart or a supermarket in UK, but costs around $2.50 at a supermarket in the US. I’m not going to go into a discussion of the superior qualities of the European bread…

Ground beef costs 97p ($1.65) for 400g over there, but $2.69/lbs here. 1 lbs = 455g, so we are talking roughly $2.36 for the same weight.

Butter costs 89p ($1.51) for 250g in London, but goes for $2.99/lbs in New Jersey. The same weight would come to $1.64, not as large a difference as above.

Mineral water shows the most dramatic difference. We used to pay 33p ($0.56) for a 2-liter bottle in England. In the US, our cheapest bet is a dozen 1-liter bottles for $10.99. In other words, we pay $1.83 for each two litres, over three times as much as in London.

Cereal boxes generally cost slightly less in the UK. One example: Cookie Crisp used to cost us £1.90 ($3.23) while now we pay $3.59.

Eggs and milk are, actually, more expensive in the UK, when equalized in quantity/volume. Eggs are £1.85 ($3.15) for 18 versus $1.99 for a dozen. If we imagine cartons with 18 eggs costing proportionally, it would only be $2.99 in New Jersey.

Milk costs £1.53 ($2.60) for a 2.27 litre carton in Southeast London, but we pay $2.99 a gallon in New Jersey. 1 gallon = 3.79 litres, so we are talking roughly $1.79 for the same volume.

Chicken is considerably more expensive in the UK, factoring in conversion rates. £5.99 ($10.18) per kilo versus $2.49/lbs. 1 kilo = 2.20 pounds; it comes to only $5.48 per kilo in the US.

If we consider some specialty products, then the gap is prices is hugely not in favor of the US. A key ingredient for a recipe or two that Natasha likes, mascarpone cheese, was easily found in London it at any supermarket for £2 ($3.40) per 500g. In New Jersey, she had to search far and wide to find it at $5.99 for what weighted less than 9oz. Which is roughly 255g. In other words, half a kilo would cost $11.75. Less tiramisu for the family, I suppose.

Indirectly related to food purchases is the nice service of home delivery. In London, you can have your stuff delivered for only £5 ($8.50), and it becomes free if your bill is over £65. In the US, the delivery service that some supermarket chains are starting to offer costs $19.95.

With grocery items, at a farmer’s market in the UK, you can have 4-5 lbs of any of the following for just £1 ($1.70) – potatoes, apples, pears, tangerines, carrots, onions; two bunches of radishes also cost £1. At a grocery store in New Jersey, any of those would cost more for a comparable quantity. Radish is at $0.89 a bunch (or $1.78 for two); potatoes are around $2 for a bag of 5lbs or so; apples and pears are from $0.89 and $1.25 per pound (in other words, more than $4 for at least 4 lbs); and so on.

And there you have it.

Not sure how useful this is, but Natasha and I always felt that the perceived higher cost of living in the UK and especially in London compared to the US does not stand up to scrutiny. Yes, some things – gasoline is the most obvious one that comes to mind – are considerably more expensive, and property costs are noticeably higher. But many other things, especially many foodstuffs, are actually cheaper across the pond. As long as your British income is comparable to that in US, that is.

1 Comment

  1. geo

    Thank you, this is very insightful! I totally agree with you guys, the quality of local farmers’ food is really good. Let’s not even mention the cheese selections (or wine). I do love having my groceries delivered at the door and I’m not looking forward to purchase things in the big stores of Texas. On a positive note, I am most thankful for having an income to buy groceries every week, no matter where. I’m also thankful for not being allergic to any food. That is a blessing.

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