“Best bananas. Two pounds for a pound!”

An item on a BBC Radio 4 programme today included some interviews in a Tyneside market. A market trader was heard selling his wares with the cry, “Best bananas. Two pounds for a pound!”

The trader was apparently using the practice of advertising the price of goods “per 2 lb” to make them sound cheaper than using the standard per kilogram price. But I wonder if I was not alone in my initial assumption that he meant “£2 for a lb” and not “2 lb for a £”?

22 thoughts on ““Best bananas. Two pounds for a pound!””

  1. I made the same error while reading what the trader was quoted as saying.
    Talk about your first class muddle!


  2. 50p per lb sounds cheap compared with the supermakets’ 80-90p, but of course the supermarkets price per kg. The market trader is selling at about £1.10 per kg – expensive even for “best” bananas.

    I recently saw a street trader (outside Holborn underground station) selling fruit per “half kilo”. Clearly they were making their headline price look less than the competition, so the same games can still be played using metric measures.


  3. Anyone hearing “Two pounds for a pound” would rightly intepret this as £2/lb because the normal price labeling practice is price/lb i.e. money first and weight second – you wouldn’t expect to see 2lb/£1 would you?

    I suppose the price conscious shopper who is used to thinking in pounds and ounces would probably guess that £2/lb is unlikely, at least for now … but what happens when inflation catches up?

    It goes without saying of course that pounds, pence, grams and kilograms leave the shopper in no doubt at all however they choose to phrase it.


  4. “50p per lb sounds cheap compared with the supermakets’ 80-90p, but of course the supermarkets price per kg”.

    Unfortunately most supermarkets still put the per pound (lb) price alongside the metric prices. This annoys me greatly as it stops people getting used to the kilo prices.


  5. “Unfortunately most supermarkets still put the per pound (lb) price alongside the metric prices. This annoys me greatly as it stops people getting used to the kilo prices.”

    I find Tesco is the worst at this (but then it also prices items “per unit”, and I also saw two similar products with one showing the price per 100g drained weight and the undrained). Sainsbury’s tends to make the metric price the headline figure, with the price in imperial tucked away almost illegibly at the bottom of the label.


  6. Just curious … are there any supermarket chains that advertise and post prices in metric only?


  7. I travel a lot for work. Sainsburys and Waitrose tend to only have imperial on about 50% of their meat behind the counter. Their fruit/veg is all metric only as is their pre packaged meat.

    Tesco seems to vary from store to store. In the South East every Tesco store has metric & imperial for the friut/Veg. In Scotland it’s common to see only a few items in the fruit/veg dual marked.


  8. Adsa is pretty much 100% metric-only. The fish, cheese, fruit & veg., and deli counters are all metric-only. Milk is the only major item left with dual units.


  9. Can anyone divine some sort of rationale for the variations that Robert points out in Imperial vs metric signage in the supermarkets? I find it all rather puzzling from this side of The Pond ….


  10. Ezra, there is no rationale. There is no rationale for labelling the price of something twice. It was supposed to be a short-term measure while people got used to the metric weights, but it’s just become a habit. Presumably different department managers have changed the way they do things at different times.
    The most laughable example is Sainsbury’s fresh fruit & vegetables. For pre-packed vegetables, if the pack size is 1 kg they will give a supplementary indication in £/lb. If the pack size is any other weight, they will give a unit price in £/kg with no imperial equivalent.


  11. Although the UK’s continued use of supplementary indications is an annoying distraction, at least the law is clear (even if the implementation is not) that the primary indications must be metric. It could be argued that the US’s imperial pricing is consistent too, but is this actually the case?

    Last time I was in the US, I found that the scales for weighing fruit and veg did so in pounds and decimals of a pound. I found this puzzling as, surely if you are going to use this system you would follow its rules and price to the pound and the ounce. Is the “0.1 lb” approach universal or do some places weigh by the ounce (1/16 lb) divisions and others by the “decimal pound”?

    The oddity was that pre-packs had prices such as “$2.50 pkg” but pkg did not mean per kilo here but “per package”. Why is this called the “New World”?


  12. I have noticed that Asda are “most metric” – which is amusing because it is owned by a US parent!
    Sainsbury seemed to “go metric” some years back only to apparently reintroduce imperial on their meat and loose veg/fruit.
    Tesco appear consistant in dual labelling anything that does not come in a bag, bottle or packet.
    Somerfield dual label loose produce.
    Morrison (including ex- safeway) the same.

    This is another example of the “British mess” syndrome!!


  13. Interesting and useful info, especially for someone over here in the so-called “New World”.

    So, does this mean that all packaged goods are labeled in metric only?


  14. Actually the best is Whole Foods, which is 100% metric with the sole exception of milk carton sizes (which are sized by the imperial pint and dual labelled). Particularly interesting as it’s a US company! They only have a toe-hold in London at the moment though, they are not a major player by any means.


  15. The US do show a tendency to simplify their use of non-metric by limiting the number of different units used and by decimalising them in a way that is not typical in the UK.
    e.g. personal weight is in pounds only, distances are often in feet with the yard rarely used.
    It’s almost as though the Americans recognise the value of the principles underlying the metric system but are being slow to come to the inevitable conclusion.


  16. In reply to Ezra… although most packaged goods in the UK are metric only, a few aren’t.

    Two products I buy regularly are a good example. McCain Oven Chips are labelled “1.8kg 4lb”, Elmlea (a cream substitute) is labelled “284ml 10 fl oz”. McCain is, I believe, a Canadian company, Elmlea is made by Unilever who I believe are Dutch. What is even more odd is that most of the other products made by these companies have metric-only labels!


  17. As a footnote to what Alex said, quite a lot of products are labeled in metric only, but are in ridiculous sizes, like 907 g. That weight would have been 2 lb (I think), but they dropped the imperial labeling without rationalising the pack size. I think we should complain to manufacturers about this – we should expect sensible round numbers so that we can compare products. If they only deliver 907 g we should ask where the other 93 g are. The pack size may be labelled, but it looks about 1 kg, so we may be deceived into thinking it’s cheaper than it really is, unless we read the small-print.


  18. Dave,.

    If they rationalized the size, they would most likely go to 900 g. With a high inflation in the cost of fuel and other raw materials, the costs to producers is always rising. If they give 93 g more, then they will have to raise prices. A price rise will be noticed and the result could be a loss of sale and a loss of profits. Nor could they give you an extra 93 g for free.

    They could also keep the size as it is and just label it as 900 g. In some markets this is the norm. This assures there is always the stated amount.


  19. Alex,

    Unilever is not a Dutch company, but a multi-national corporation, formed of Anglo-Dutch parentage, that owns many of the world’s consumer product brands in foods, beverages, cleaning agents and personal care products. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unilever

    The Elmlea brand is a UK division that produces pourable cream available in different varieties.

    I have the feeling that Unilever allows there divisions to operate independently and don’t care if the product is rounded metric or not as long as the product sells and makes the company a profit. It may be very costly to change the size just to make it a nice rounded number of millilitres.

    The sensible metrication would demand an increase in size to 300 mL. But like the situation in my previous post this would not be economical. There may be a time when they have to cut costs and thus lower the contents and you may see a drop from 284 mL to 250 mL. Even if they decide to keep it at 284 mL, there is no reason they have to keep the supplemental indication as it serves no purpose. They could drop it. But who knows, they may have an imperial supporter making the decisions and he may want to keep rounded imperial sizes for a long time to come.

    Does anyone know if Unilever was one of the companies opposing the EU directive?


  20. I remember Walkers crisps being taken to task by the BBC Watch-dog programme for downsizing 28 g packets of crisps to 25 g without reducing the price.
    No law against this nor should there be particularly. The main issue is that package sizing is clear to see so anyone can make a value for money assessment if they wish to.
    Rational metric sizes are preferable for easy unit price calculation, so in our longer term interests I think we should be prepared to tolerate this kind of readjustment even if it means the inevitable price rise (within reason) which would probably happen anyway over time.


  21. While it is inevitable that some traders will make use of periods of uncertainty to increase profit margins (whether by proce increases or by downsizing), this should not be used as an excuse to prevent metrication. Rather, the metrication process should be as short as possible, but with appropriate consumer safeguards to make this window of opportunity as short as possible.

    While the Janet Devers case drags on, many market traders are abusing the period of uncertainty by using imperial weighing machines, selling by the bowl and so on.


  22. It was interesting to watch The Apprentice on BBC One tonight – both of the teams priced their fish in kg only, showing that they didn’t believe it necessary to dual price their goods (although admittedly this probably wasn’t too high on their list of priorities!). Later they showed the confusion that can arise with having dual labelling by copying a price marked per lb but showing it as price per kg instead, so they were selling lobster at half the price!

    Obviously none have them had ever been to a fish market before! I believe that having one simple system to price goods would encourage people not educated in the imperial system to go to the market, as they would not be concerned about confusing prices. As it stands, some may not fully understand what they’re getting, stall holders don’t always show the price per kg in larger text than price per lb, and so this may put people off with a feeling that they’re getting short changed.


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