Groceries bought from stores in nearby Sicily are on average around 30% cheaper than in Malta, a Times of Malta exercise has found.
During a recent trip to Sicily, Times of Malta visited two supermarkets – ARD and Eurospin – both popular with the locals and which sell brands that are found in Malta as well as other, generic ones.
Times of Malta compiled a shopping list of basic needs that Maltese families tend to purchase, including fresh milk, fruit, meats, detergents, canned goods, pasta, flour and sauces.
The total cost of this list came to €124.92 from Eurospin, while the same items at ARD totalled €158.17.
In Malta, the same basket of goods would cost around €161.03 if shoppers visited all the major supermarkets in search of the cheapest options.
Times of Malta looked at the prices offered by the bigger supermarkets, namely Daves, Greens, Welbee’s, Pavi/Pama, Piscopo’s Cash and Carry, Savemart, Scotts, Smart, Spar, Ta’ Dirjanu and The X Zone.
In Sicily, we looked at prices of both well-known brands commonly purchased by Maltese shoppers from local stores as well as more generic ones. This included brands that might be found in one country but not the other.
In Malta, the prices of both types of goods were also reviewed.
A direct comparison was carried out when analysing prices of branded items, since these were identical in the two countries, while for generic items, we looked at the cheapest options in both countries.
A two-litre packet of Pfanner juice, for instance, cost €1.99 in Sicily, while the same product averaged €2.89 in Malta. A generic brand of juice cost around 99c in Sicily while the cheapest equivalent in Malta was €1.59.
A 200g tub of Philadelphia cheese cost €1.89 in Sicily while in Malta this started from €2.77.
When it came to fruit, melons cost 99c per kilo in Sicily while they averaged €1.75 per kilo in Maltese supermarkets. Similarly, peaches were sold for around €1.39 per kilo in Sicily while they averaged €2.35 per kilo in Malta.
Looking at pasta, a staple in most Maltese families’ kitchens, a 500g box of Barilla lasagne sheets cost €1.19 in Sicily while in Malta the price started at €1.99. When it came to penne rigate, however, a 1kg Barilla box cost the same in both countries ‒ €1.49.
While most of the items were notably cheaper in Sicily, there were some goods that cost more on the Italian island. This included some detergents and personal cosmetics such as Dove deodorants and Colgate toothpaste as well as Heinz ketchup, canned tuna, chicken products and Nescafé instant coffee.
A 160g tin of canned tuna cost between €0.98 and €1.49 in Sicily while in Malta it was priced between 77c and €2.12.
Benna’s fresh whole milk was also some 73c cheaper than the Sicilian options.
Most Italian foods were significantly cheaper in Sicily. A 300g pre-packed block of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, for instance, was priced at €4.99 in Sicily while the price averaged around €6.50 in Malta’s supermarkets.
Similarly, a 680g jar of passata sauce (generic brand) cost between 65c and 79c in Sicily while in Malta, prices ranged between 89c and €1.25.
According to its Quarterly Review, published in August, the Central Bank of Malta said food prices rose by 7.2% in March. Bread and cereals as well as dairy were the main drivers behind the rise in food inflation, followed by meats.
Times of Malta also visited an electronics store, Euronics, as well as a hardware store, Tecnomat.
While original prices at Euronics were on the same lines as those in similar stores in Malta, most of the items were discounted, resulting in cheaper final prices. Most of the items on offer were in stock and available to purchase immediately.
As for the prices in the hardware store, which also stocks tiles, bathroom fixtures and power tools, the prices were significantly cheaper than Malta.
The prices for tiles, for instance, ranged between €6.90 per square metre to €21.90 per square metre. Ready-made doors, for instance, were also notably cheaper at €184. In Malta, similar-style doors start from around €300. The brands in Sicily for such doors were not the same as those in Malta, although they were of similar materials and dimensions.
And when it came to power tools, a 760-watt grinder in Sicily was as cheap as €31.90 while in Malta, the cheapest price for the tool is €75.
Why shop in Sicily?
Many Maltese people visit the Italian island specifically to shop for different items, and those who holiday in Sicily also tend to indulge in some shopping, it has emerged.
For Joseph Vella, who spoke to Times of Malta on his way back home after a week-long holiday, the main reason for the journey was to enjoy a break with family. But since he believes prices in Sicily are cheaper and with wider options, the family also allocated some time for shopping.
“We like to purchase electronics from here because they are cheaper. I also visited a DIY store this time around and I did notice prices were much cheaper. I didn’t buy much but I would consider coming back just to buy things if I was to carry out home improvements,” Vella said.
For Elaine, the trip to Sicily was solely to shop for furniture for a new apartment she is doing up with her husband.
“We came over for a day with a company that transports and designs furniture for you and settles everything. The items will then be brought to Malta at a later date,” she said.
The prices were significantly cheaper than what the couple were offered in Malta, although she did not outline the costs. Asked whether she feared the cheaper prices could mean inferior quality, Elaine said relatives and friends had already made use of the service and were “extremely” satisfied.
“I can tell you the prices in Sicily are a fraction of what they are in Malta. I can’t wait to come back for other things,” she said.
And for Anne Marie, clothes shopping in Sicily has become regular. While the prices for some brands might be similar, in Sicily there are regular sales.
“Some of the offers are crazy. Some outlets have 70% off all the time… we don’t have that in Malta,” she said.
So why is Malta more expensive?
The disparity between the prices of goods in Sicily and Malta has long existed, according to Malta Chamber of SMEs CEO Abigail Agius Mamo, but it keeps “getting worse” because of shipping costs and lack of resources.
Contacted for a comment, Agius Mamo said it has long been known that goods sold locally tend to be more expensive than those in Sicily, even if the products bought are identical.
But as the cost of freight shot up in recent months and wage inflation also continued to increase, the prices in Malta became significantly higher than those in Sicily, Agius Mamo said.
“There are various reasons why this is – Malta is import-dependent, it is located on the outskirts of Europe and the market size is limited. It is also not really viable to push for local manufacturing as much as they do in Sicily,” Agius Mamo said.
Wage inflation is also significantly higher in Malta, the CEO said, a cost that often spills onto the prices of goods.
Agius Mamo believes all the issues can be addressed if there is a concerted effort, as opposed to “fragmented” attempts to deal with the problems.
“The price issue is getting worse, for sure. It is at a level of crisis that needs to be properly addressed immediately. We are aware that the number of people opting to shop in Sicily is growing and we need to mitigate the problem, if not solve it,” she said.
The price issue is getting worse, for sure. It is at a level of crisis that needs to be properly addressed immediately- Malta Chamber of SMEs CEO Abigail Agius Mamo
One of Malta’s leading logistics companies recently warned that consumers would continue to pay rising prices for goods if the costs connected with logistics keep going up.
The Express Trailers CEO also expressed fears the authorities might not be “sensitive” to ongoing issues.
Agius Mamo echoed the concern, saying it was “petty” to accuse businesses of abuse for rising costs. The CEO was referring to comments made by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana during a recent Times of Malta Q&A session where he said there is some predatory pricing under way and “certain businesses are abusing prices to make up for COVID-19 [difficulties]”.
Some of the price differences (same brands)
Pfanner fruit juice (2L) €1.99 €2.89
Philadelphia cheese (200g) €1.89 €2.77
Barilla lasagne sheets (500g) €1.19 €1.98
Heinz Ketchup (300ml) €1.59 €1.14
Nutella (1kg) €6.49 €7.43
Wudy sausages €1.79 4-pack, 100g per pack €2.25 3-pack, 100g per pack
Barilla flour 00 (1kg) €0.99 €0.99
Dixan washing powder €12.90 €10.90
Some of the price differences (generic products)
Fruit juice €0.99 €1.59
Sliced cheese (150g) €1.49 €1.70
Ready-made dough in sheets €0.98 €2.10
Fresh milk €1.69 €0.96
Pasta (500g) €0.59 €0.65
Passata (680g) €0.65 €0.89
Béchamel sauce €1.29 €1.35
Flour (1kg) €0.75 €0.85
Jar of olives (300g) €0.99 €1.25
Washing powder €4.99 €5.89
To ensure the fairest comparison of prices, Times of Malta looked at two types of products – those with known brands that are available in Malta as well as those that are generic brands, specific to certain shops only.
For the items from known brands, the items in Sicily and Malta were of the same description and weight. For instance, the price of a 500g box of Barilla lasagne sheets was compared to the same exact item in Malta.
When it came to generic brands, since these tended to be specific to certain shops and not always available locally, the cheapest option was noted both in Sicily and in Malta. This meant that if, for instance, there were three different options for a jar of passata sauce, the cheapest option was chosen both in Sicily and in Malta. As with the branded items, the generic ones had to have the same description and weight.