- a blog about food and value

Shopping in the North

The sneaky price hikes of Irish supermarkets are risibly predictable. Last month, when Superquinn in Dundalk announced it was closing down with the loss of over 67 jobs, I felt very bad for the workers who are losing their jobs. So it was strange to find myself shopping in a big supermarket in Northern Ireland the other week.

The reality, we now know, is that all the supermarkets have been raising their prices. At the same time, they’re trying to spin the line that this survey – this survey shows they have risen their prices as demand and prices fall – is proof that only they offer good value. This is not spin. It’s a lie.


I understand that VAT is higher in Ireland, as is the minimum wage, while we’re heavily taxed on spending rather than income. Sterling offers good value for your money at the moment, so it’s not so easy for Irish shops to compete. But I don’t believe for a second that this justifies price rises. Is it utterly naive of me to ask that the supermarkets just tell the truth? Why don’t they tell us the real reason behind their price rises? You never know, people might even appreciate a bit of honesty.

A lot of us don’t have the luxury of thinking about keeping jobs in Ireland and spending over the odds. We’re broke and it’s not our fault, yet we’re chastised and told to be “patriotic” by the same politicians who got us into this mess and have presided over this farce of inflated prices for years.

So, I’m reluctantly finding myself agreeing with CheapEats reader Lastmanalive, an accountant from Dundalk who had this to say about cross-border shopping:

As a 55 year accountant from Dundalk I can tell you that the patriotic thing to do is shop up north. We in the south have to sort out our cost base and we will not do that by in effect subsidising the local supermarkets. These are the facts:
1. The only extensive analyses of costs both sides of the border indicate that costs can only represent some 5% of the price difference. Answer this – how is Tesco significantly more expensive for branded products but only marginally so for their own brands and
2. Why do none of the UK chains not produce separate profit figures for the south, what are they hiding
Finally and this is very much my experience, the customer service in north is far superior. At its most basic, they have far more staff.
Patriotic shopping in the South is idiotic and will not solve the problem in the long run.

I was in Derry recently, so on the way back home decided to see what all the fuss was about and pick up a few items in one of the UK multiples – not Tesco. I was taken aback by the price differences. These were some of the prices :

  • 3 fresh 1 litre juices for £4 (€4.50)
  • Imperial Leather handwash – £1 (€1.13)
  • Lindt Swiss double chocolate – £1.55 (€1.75)
  • 750g organic carrots – 99p (€1.11)
  • Sainsbury’s Chopped Tomatoes – 4pack x 390g – £2.54 (€2.87)
  • Palo Alto wine – £3.99 (€4.50)

I reckon that, overall, I probably saved about 33% on my regular shopping bill. Still, I don’t think it’s worth my time making a regular trip up north. It would take me two and a half hours and an unjustifiable amount of petrol and time to reach Newry, not to mention dealing with the inescapable residual guilt of taking money out of the Irish economy.

But I might go occasionally on a big shop, and I’ll certainly be keeping a closer eye on the rip-offs in Irish supermarkets.


  1. I recently did some shopping in Sainsbury’s on a weekend in Belfast and noticed the huge price differences too. It also stocked a bigger variety of stuff that’s hard to get down here (like certain Quorn products). I’d definitely think about going back up every couple of months.

  2. I like Sarah stocked up on Quorn products on my recent trip to Belfast and yes there is certainly a huge difference in the prices up north. I wonder is there any figures out there for a comparison of a basket of products and how much of a percentage of weekly income that basket is for an ROI resident verses a similar basket bought in NI as a percentage of NI average income…. would be interesting to see if it really is all that different.

  3. Thank you once again for turning your backs on your own country and paying her majestys taxes 😀

  4. As a northener living in Cork I agree with Sarah and Frank that prices are alot cheaper in the north. And by the way Ciara I resent your comment that you are turning your back on your country. Are you suggesting northeners are not Irish as well? Shopping in the north provides jobs and economic benefits to the northern counties of Ireland just as me going up to Dublin shopping benefits the Dublin economy. Should I not shop outside Cork then? I lost my job this summer, having payed hard earned taxes for the last 12 years to the government who have wasted it on blatant overspending and innefficiencies which I seen first hand while dealing with government and council departments. Billions were wasted which could have been put to better use like good and value for money community/cultural/tourist/civic/leisure/health/educational facilites, which unfortunately are nowhere near the same standard and value down here. I see cork getting very little from the govt whereas Derry which is smaller gets alot more support like the newly built Irish Language cultural centre (the biggest in Ireland), the Millenium Theatre )the biggest purpose built theatre), various other new and restored cummunity and cultural buildings, new squares/parks/walkways/festivals/colleges/sewage/transport facilities etc.. which I would love to see the likes of in Cork but our govt here don’t have the same commitment or foresight towards the city or the people in general.
    Plus with the constant govt led massive hikes on the likes of food, drink, wages, clothing, houses, health etc and companies doing the same – we are now extremely overpriced and uncompetitive compared to the North and most other countries. This cost me my job and ive seen my taxes wasted so I have no guilt about going up north to the land of St. Patrick and Cuchulainn to get value for money on what little I get being unemployed. Eg. A can of Murphies in Cork is €2.30 and in Derry its 90p; a 1l bottle of Jamesons here is €38 and £16 in Derry, and if ur buying the likes of designer clothes, furniture, baby or health products etc, or even paying for tickets at festivals and fleadhs in the north are alot cheaper. Paid €30 to watch Lunasa in Cork and £10 in Belfast.
    Plus I agree that service and friendliness of staff is much better from getting ur bags packed to being very chatty.