Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet FS138

# Unit Pricing: What It is and How to Use It

• Jennifer Salt Taylor, Family and Community Health Sciences Educator, Passaic County

Saving money when food shopping can be difficult due to the different weights and sizes of packages, cans, and containers. Sometimes it's cheaper to buy two smaller-sized packages of cereal and sometimes it is not. To help take the mystery out of these decisions, unit pricing was developed and became a New Jersey law in 1975. Shoppers looking to get the most for their money can use the unit price to compare packages of different sizes and determine which offer the best value.

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Figure 1. Compare the unit price of the same product in different sizes.

## What is Unit Pricing?

The unit price is the cost of an item per pound, ounce, quart, feet, count, or other measure that is commonly used. It permits the consumer to compare the price per unit of items, such as canned peas or packages of dinner napkins. Figure 1 shows an example of two containers of yogurt with different unit prices. Which is the better value, per ounce?

While the retail price of the top container is more, it is a better value, per ounce (Figure 1).

## What Does a Unit Pricing Label Look Like?

Unit and retail price will be on the same label, which may be vertically or horizontally divided to display both prices. The unit price will be displayed on the left side or upper portion of the label, depending on the format, as seen in Figure 2. While the space devoted to the unit and retail prices should be equal, the retail price can be the same size or larger than the unit price.

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Figure 2. Examples of unit pricing labels.

Note:

All letters and numbers must be:

The unit price section of the label must also give the unit of measure, e.g., pound, ounce, or count. Unit price shelf labels may also include stock or code information as long as it does not interfere with the consumer information.

## Where is Unit Pricing Found?

Unit price labels are often found on the shelf edge (Figure 3, left) but can also be on an individual container (Figure 3, right) or both the shelf edge and the container.

Figure 3. Where to find unit price labels.

Many online retailers list the unit price along with retail price, as shown in the figure below, but it is not mandatory.

Figure 4. Screen capture of an online shopping cart.

## How To Use Unit Pricing

By comparing the unit price of different sizes of a favorite brand OR different brands of the same style product, you can quickly see which costs less per unit. Look at the examples below to determine what choices you would make for your family.

Here are some prices for store brand whole carrots. All items are the same brand but come in different-sized packages (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Compare the unit price of the same product in different sizes.

Use the unit price to compare the items and answer the questions below:

Figure 6 below shows prices for the same brand of carrots as above, however, these are different types of carrots. Think about the questions below and decide what you would purchase for your family.

Figure 6. Compare the unit prices of the same food, carrots, in various types (baby carrots, carrot chips, and canned sliced carrots).

Figure 7 shows some examples of the same product, but from different brands and in different-sized packages. Use the unit price to determine which is the best choice for you.

Figure 7. Unit prices of same product (brown rice) from different brands.

## Do All Stores Use Unit Pricing?

No. Even though unit pricing is a law in New Jersey, some retail stores are not required to display unit pricing. For example, retail stores having gross receipts of not more than \$2 million in the previous year or having 4,000 or fewer square feet of floor space devoted to selling consumer products, are not required to display unit pricing. An owner of more than one retail store need not display unit pricing if the stores meet similar regulations.

Many online retailers list unit prices but it is not mandatory.

## What Are Unit Prices and Lists?

Some retail store owners have received permission to provide unit price information in list form. These lists must be easy to read and displayed at or near the commodity.

As with the unit price labels, these lists must be divided into columns and provide information in the same order:

ITEM WEIGHT UNIT PRICE RETAIL PRICE
OURSTORE ORANGE JUICE 12 OZ \$0.12 \$1.44
OURSTORE ORANGE JUICE 52 OZ \$0.06 \$3.12
MYBEST ORANGE JUICE 12 OZ \$0.19 \$2.29

Additional stock or code information may appear on the unit price sign or list.

## Is Unit Pricing Required on All Retail Consumer Commodities?

No. These items do not need to carry a unit price label according to NJ law:

Some other products may be exempt from unit pricing based on the interpretation of current regulations. If in doubt, call your county Office of Consumer Affairs (PDF).

## Acknowledgement

This fact sheet has been updated from the original version written by Audrey Burkart.

August 2023