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MONEY

REVEALED: Which are Italy’s cheapest supermarkets?

As the cost of living crisis hits household budgets in Italy as elsewhere, a new study says switching supermarkets could shave thousands of euros a year off your grocery shopping bill.

People shopping at Esselunga, Milan.
A family of four can save up to 3,350 euros a year by shopping at discount stores such as Aldi and Eurospin. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

As the cost of living keeps rising amid soaring inflation – Italy’s inflation rate hit a 37-year high at the end of last month – many households across Italy, as elsewhere, are finding it increasingly hard to make ends meet.

READ ALSO: What is Italy doing to cut the rising cost of living?

The government’s recent suggestion of lowering or even scrapping IVA (VAT, or sales tax) on basic food products hasn’t materialised. But consumers could still find ways to save on their grocery shopping.

Many shoppers are now switching supermarkets to save money, or considering it.

And doing so could pay off. A new study from Italian consumer group Altroconsumo showed a family of four can save up to 3,350 euros a year by shopping at discount supermarkets such as Aldi and Eurospin.

Altroconsumo, savings on grocery shopping

Maximum possible savings by type of shopping and household size. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.

For context, the study found Italian families with two children spend an average of 8,550 euros a year on groceries. 

While discount supermarkets do allow for considerable savings however they also generally offer lower-quality products which not all consumers will be satisfied with.

Shoppers can also reduce costs by switching to supermarket own-brand items (i.e. items carrying the supermarket logo), available in stores such as Carrefour and Iper-Coop. 

In particular, shopping at Carrefour, which is the most affordable supermarket in Italy when it comes to own-brand goods, can allow a family of four to save as much as 3,250 euros per year (savings can amount to 2000 euros for individual consumers). 

Consumers who do not wish to part ways with branded products (prodotti di marca) can still save on their shopping, though in this case savings are comparatively lower.

Shopping at Esselunga – the most cost-effective Italian supermarket for branded goods – allows for savings up to 350 euros for single individuals and up to 570 euros for families with two children.

Finally, potential savings are considerably reduced for consumers choosing to stick with a spesa mista, meaning that they generally fill up their shopping cart with a combination of branded items, distributor-brand goods and low-cost goods.

Regional differences 

While switching supermarket can mean savings on food bills, exactly how much you’ll save varies greatly by region.

In particular, Altroconsumo’s latest report highlighted once again the stark divide separating the north of the country from the centre and south. 

READ ALSO: From coffee to haircuts: How the cost of living varies around Italy

 Of the 15 cheapest Italian supermarkets, only two are located in the central or southern regions of the boot (Sesto Fiorentino’s Coop-Fi and Spesa 365 in Bari).

More importantly, consumers living in the north and shopping at the cheapest supermarket or hypermarket available in their city can save as much as 18 percent on a branded-goods-only food bill.

In equal circumstances (i.e. buying only branded items at the cheapest local store), consumers living in most central or southern cities can only save between two and three percent. 

Convenience map by Altroconsumo

The “convenience map”, with the cheaper cities shown in green and the more expensive cities shown in red. Graphic courtesy of Altroconsumo.

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For members

ENERGY

EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

With further energy cost hikes announced by regulator Arera last week, we look at how high prices could climb - and ask readers how Italy's ongoing fuel crisis is impacting you.

EXPLAINED: How much are energy prices rising in Italy this autumn?

Italy continues to be hit hard by Europe’s soaring fuel prices, as national energy regulator Arera warned last week that prices would climb by 59 percent by the end of the year. 

Gas bills in Italy have risen by 93 percent over the past two years and the continuing conflict between Russia and Ukraine together with the damage recently suffered by Nord Stream pipelines is set to push costs even higher.

The Italian government has already passed a number of aid measures, with a further aid package, the decreto aiuti ter (third aid decree), currently on ministers’ desks.

READ ALSO: Electricity bills in Italy to rise by 59 percent, says energy regulator

Outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi is also currently working to bring about an EU-wide cap on gas prices. 

But in the meantime, households and businesses are facing what many say are unmanageably high energy bills.

Arera estimates that the average Italian household will spend €1,322 on electricity bills alone in 2022, compared to €632 last year.

From the start of October, the price of electricity rose to 66.01 euro cents / KWh, up from 41.45 last quarter and an average of around 23 in 2021.

READ ALSO: Energy crisis: Italy’s outgoing PM pledges more help with soaring prices

Without Arera’s interventions to cap the increase at 59 percent, the regulator says electricity costs would have doubled this quarter.

Numerous protests have been staged against the increases, with members of the grassroots organisation Noi Non Paghiamo (‘we are not paying’) planning to demonstrate in Bologna this Saturday.

A picture taken on August 28, 2022 shows an incandescent light bulb with a residential building seen in reflection on a window after sunset in Lausanne.

The average Italian family’s electricity bill is set to rise by 59 percent. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

To understand how the energy crisis is affecting people in Italy, we put out a survey asking how much your bills had risen in recent months.

We received a range of responses, with some readers reporting extreme price hikes, and a small number seeing no change at all – a function of being temporarily locked in to Italy’s optional fixed-rate contracts.

The majority of respondents, however, said they’d been hit with prohibitively high bills in recent months that some worry they’ll struggle to afford.

‘We will struggle to pay’

Several readers reported seeing their energy bills rise by as much as six or seven times compared to the same period last year.

“Recent price rises have seen the unit cost of electricity on my bills increase by a factor of 6. I am now spending more than 10% of my income on energy, a figure used to define the term “fuel poverty” in the UK,” said Gary in Lombardy.

A Canadian who lives in Florence wrote that they initially paid €143 for 871 kwh for the month of July. “Then, weeks later my landlord sends me an ADJUSTMENT for euros 970 for 1,015 kwh, same period of July. It was a huge shock.

“I will no longer use my air conditioning, but the damage is done and I wish there could have been a warning. We will struggle to pay it.”

READ ALSO: Portofino mayor offers residents €400 to offset energy bills

One Brit in Ceglie Messapica, a town in the southern region of Puglia, said their typical costs for the month of August range between €125 and €150, but this year had surged as high as €621. Rob, an Australia who also lives in Puglia, said his bills had also gone up sixfold.

Others have seen their prices climb at a slightly less alarming rate. One reader who lives in the Lazio region, outside Rome, saw their bills double, as did a British respondent in Sicily.

Energy prices in Italy have soared since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.

Energy prices in Italy have soared since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February. Photo by ALAIN JOCARD / AFP.

Energy-saving strategies

Even those readers who hadn’t yet seen any changes to their bills were cautious, and planned on taking measures to reduce their energy consumption over the winter.

Penelope Hart in Rome said her energy bills for this past summer were no higher than in previous years, but “even so, I’m watching every move. I’ve stopped using the dishwasher and the oven.”

Almost all of those who responded plan to limit their fuel use this year through a combination of cutting down on heating, wearing more layers, turning lights off and restricting their use of appliances. Some will resort to tougher measures.

The British reader who lives in Ceglie Messapica said their house lacks insulation, “so we will be living in 1 room & heating it only.”

Hart said she plans to set a fire every morning that she will also use for cooking to reduce her reliance on gas and central heating.

“I’ll have tiny baths,” she added. “I’m washing dishes in a bowl as I did when I was young.”

Wood pellets and contract-hunting

The fuel crisis has left consumers scrambling for alternative energy sources, and wood pellets are a popular option. But the sudden demand has caused prices to skyrocket, putting them out of reach for many.

“Last year a 15Kg bag of pellets for heating was 5 euros, the same bag is now 11.50 euros, pure profiteering,” said the Ceglie Messapica resident.

Another reader wrote in to say that prices in their area had risen from €4.80 a bag last year to €13.50 this year.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

Fireplace with burning fire.

With the cost of gas and electricity soaring, some households are seeking alternative heat and energy sources. Photo by Stephane DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Some readers were even considering relocating in response to the increased fuel prices.

“I do not plan to spend another 40C summer in Italy, this further supports reasons for me to move back to Canada,” wrote the Canadian reader in Florence.

One American reader who lives in Naples said they would be spending winter in the US, even though they hadn’t yet experienced any increase in their energy bills.

A few respondents have switched providers in a bid to keep their costs down. Two readers said they had switched to Enel, citing a combination of higher prices at other companies and a two-year 40 percent introductory discount as reasons for the move.

Another commented that they had previously had cheaper bills under contract with IdeaEnergia, and that their relatives in Rome had had good rates with EniPlenitude.

But with wholesale gas and electricity tariffs as high as they currently are, it’s unclear how much of a difference switching providers will make at this point.

Said one British reader who has seen their energy bills rise by 55 percent so far this year, “It looks like we will be wearing some very heavy clothing.”

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