Supermarket giants Tesco and Asda dramatically increased prices on key items in the runup to Christmas in what an independent expert has called "a systematic, cynical and aggressive attempt to exploit demand", a Guardian investigation can reveal. Batteries, lightbulbs, medicines, Christmas drinks and must-have children's toys were among essentials whose prices were increased.
Both companies ran marketing campaigns before Christmas and at New Year boasting of thousands of price cuts but many consumers will have been unaware that they were also raising thousands of prices in the same period.
Data acquired from third party analysts and published on our website shows that between 9 and 22 December 2009, Asda increased prices on more than 2,000 lines while Tesco upped the price of over 1,500 lines. Professor John Bridgeman, the former director general of the Office of Fair Trading who conducted official inquiries into the supermarket sector, said that in his view the data showed "a cynical attempt to exploit demand in the week before Christmas and force prices up" and "extract maximum profit" from shoppers who were too busy to go elsewhere.
In Asda products that doubled or nearly doubled in price immediately before Christmas included a four-pack of Duracell Plus AA batteries, certain razor blades, gravy pouches, Lemsip, toothbrushes and pickles; Walkers Sensations crisps went up 45%, a 1.25-litre family bottle of Coca Cola went up 37%. In Tesco Nurofen was up 33%, a pack of Warburton's teacakes up 34.4%, a bottle of Beefeater gin was up 37.6% and various lightbulbs were up over 20%, for example. The must-have toy for girls, the Peppa Pig playset, went up 50% from £19.97 to £29.97 on 19 December.