Last April, 20 Minutes went shopping in two supermarkets of the same hard discount brand on either side of the Franco-Belgian border. The postulate was to determine whether it was more advantageous for a Frenchman to go shopping in Belgium, or vice versa. If months later, when the economic situation is far from having improved in one or the other country, we devoted ourselves to the same exercise, with the same constraints. The results are rather surprising.
On our list, we had 12 consumer products strictly identical to those we had bought in April: orange juice, emmental, rice, pasta, coffee, flour, toilet paper, eggs, ham, detergent, oil and Nutella. At the time, our basket cost us 36.24 euros in France and 36.37 euros in Belgium. An almost perfect equality even though inflation in our neighbors was almost twice as high as in ours (8.31% against 4.5%). This was also true for fuel prices, which were almost identical, with the exception of French diesel, which was cheaper.
Five months later, the same observation or almost
Five months ago, we had not noticed a rush of Belgians in France to do their shopping there and vice versa. It was only French diesel that attracted our neighbors and Belgian tobacco that motivated northerners to cross the border. On Tuesday, the same pattern presented itself to us. In the supermarket on the French side, we paid 37.17 euros for our 12 items against 33.23 euros on the Belgian side. The trend has therefore been largely reversed in favor of Belgium with a basket that is 10% expensive for our neighbors even though in August their inflation was up to 9.44% and in decrease in France to 5.8%.
The biggest price difference concerns sunflower oil, a product which is once again supplied normally on both sides of the border. For 1 litre, we paid 1.99 euros in Belgium and 3.68 euros in France, i.e. nearly 85% more expensive. A kilo of flour also costs almost double in France, as does Emmental, which is French though. But overall, the difference is not glaring enough to motivate a move that will cost more in fuel than it will bring in savings.
Rush on drinks and fuels
To check if our observation at the hard discounter was the same elsewhere, we contacted several stores located along the border, on the French side. And there, the story is sometimes very different. “It’s a real invasion of Belgians”, confides to 20 Minutes an employee in a supermarket in Wervicq. According to her, our neighbors are mainly rushing for water packs and sodas. Ditto in a supermarket chain in Halluin: “At the weekend, our customers are 80% Belgians. They leave with trolleys full of drinks, alcohol, water, coke…”, assures an employee. In Lannoy, nothing unusual: “We have always had a lot of Belgians here, cross-border workers, but not more at the moment,” tempers an employee.
Besides drinks, therefore, our neighbors have another excellent reason to cross the border: fuel. Witness the long queue to get supplies at the Total station located just before the Belgian border, in Halluin. The lowest price listed on a specialized website for 1 liter of SP 98 is 1.86 euro, compared to 1.43 euro in the north of France. For SP 95 and diesel, the price in France is on average 24 cents cheaper per litre.