Both French supermarket giant E. Leclerc and German discount chain Lidl have long claimed to be the cheapest in the country but which really offers the lowest-price shop?
In 2008, E. Leclerc launched its own price comparison app, and claimed that it was cheaper than its competitors. Since then, it has continued to claim it is the cheapest option despite rising inflation and a record food price increase of 20% over two years.
And it appears to be paying off: a December 2023 Kantar study found that its market share in France climbed to a record 24.6% by the end of 2020. In contrast, Lidl stagnated during the same period, with an 8% market share, the study said.
Last year, however, Lidl claimed that it was 2% cheaper than E. Leclerc. This prompted the French group to hit back with a claim that - when comparing all brands, including own-brands - E. Leclerc was actually 6% cheaper.
So which is it?
Comparing the two stores evenly is not straightforward because of a difference in pricing policies and comparison methodology.
For example, Lidl keeps its prices identical for each of its stores, no matter the location. This is not the case for E. Leclerc, whose local owners are free to set their own prices in their own supermarket or hypermarket, and can change them based on local factors.
Another factor that complicates the comparison is that the products being compared are arguably not of the same quality.
For example, E.Leclerc claims that its Eco+ cereal flakes are 75% cheaper than the closest Lidl equivalent, its Shoko Shells product. But Lidl only offers this product, whereas E. Leclerc offers both the Eco+ cereal and other brands, plus premium options.
Eco+ products are E. Leclerc’s lowest-level, lowest-priced range, whereas Shoko Shells are arguably a medium-range product. This means that comparing them may not offer a true picture of the quality available per euro.
Comparing like with like?
Not to be defeated by these issues, the news outlet Capital decided to carry out its own comparison between products of similar quality from each supermarket.
It bought 16 items each from both supermarkets, trying to ensure that the products bought were as similar as possible on branding and quality.
For example, it bought the same brands where possible (Nutella spread, Panzani pasta, Herta ham) and checked the ingredients, recipes, and weights on other products, such as rice, orange juice, and flour.
Both supermarkets were located in Levallois-Perret (Hauts-de-Seine, Île-de-France). In this comparison, Lidl was around 4% cheaper than E. Leclerc.
Similarly, magazine programme Complément d'enquête on France 2 mounted another experiment in September last year. It took 25 items of comparable quality, across both national brands and own-brands - including fruit and vegetables - at an E. Leclerc and Lidl on the outskirts of Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine, Brittany).
Again, Lidl was found to be 3.1% cheaper.
Location the main factor
But Lidl is not always cheaper nationwide.
Another study, published by the supermarket magazine Linéaires in May 2023, showed that of the supermarkets tested in six towns, three Lidl stores were cheaper than Leclerc.
In defence of E. Leclerc, CEO Michel-Edouard Leclerc told Capital: “On a limited number of products, you can always find cheaper competitors. We are the cheapest whenever we can be and, from time to time, the others snap at our heels.”
Location appears to be the defining factor between the two rivals.