Rising prices give customers food for thought
FOR shoppers at a Dungannon supermarket on Thursday it was a case of 'supermarket weep' when they checked their till receipts.
Crops might be burgeoning across the Tyrone countryside in the plentiful June sunshine, but when it comes to the food aisles in local shops the picture is more gloomy.
Grocery bills have been emptying wallets and purses with those on fixed incomes such as pensioners and the unemployed the worst affected.
As local families struggle to budget, some shoppers are considering ‘the recession diet’.
Mother-of-one Sharon Frizelle said she was cutting back on luxuries and considering growing her own vegetables.
“I know families who are already growing their own. People fear prices are going to keep rising”, she said.
Food prices are also a permanent pain in the back pocket for postman David Gaw.
The father-of-two said he had switched to a cheaper supermarket for household essentials.
“As a single income family we’ve been hit badly with the rise in prices.
“There’ll be no holiday this year, and my wife, who had been working voluntarily is having to give up her post to take on paid-work.
“It’s expensive filling our two boys’ lunchboxes every day. I fear that things will get worse.”
Margaret Hagan, who runs a household of five, was equally pessimistic.
“We’’ve stopped using heating oil in an attempt to safe money”, she said.
“All of us are working long hours to pay the bills and we don’t get the time to cook food which is cheaper than buying ready made meals.”
The price of a typical shopping basket of food has risen by almost 6 per cent since January – and shoppers face even higher bills in the months ahead as companies are unable to absorb higher fuel costs.
Consumer research has found that families are already cutting down on eating out, going to the theatre, buying clothes and updating household appliances and furniture.
Neil Saunders, consulting director at Verdict Research, said that the lowest income groups were feeling the pressure most because a greater proportion of their cash went on food.
The extra food costs are adding about 514 million a month to the national grocery bill. The sharpest rises are for fresh fruit and vegetables, up by almost 16 per cent since the start of the year. This is mainly because of the cost of packaging – oil is used to manufacture plastic – and the costs have risen in line with basic oil prices.
The costs of lavatory paper and kitchen rolls were also significantly higher at 15.7 per cent, because of the increase in fuel costs. Such items may be light but they are bulky to transport.
Verdict has kept a note of the prices of 100 branded grocery items, including their value, standard and premium ranges. The list is commercially sensitive as it is sold to retailers, but a snap-shot given to The Times shows that some of the highest increases are for cauliflower (up 44 per cent) and basmati rice (33.3 per cent).
In a minority of areas, such as health and beauty products and ready meals, prices have fallen. A 500ml mouthwash, for example, is 10 per cent cheaper now than in January and washing-up liquid is down by 2.4 per cent.
Mr Saunders said that the inflationary effect on food would continue throughout the year. “The rises are certainly not a flash in the pan. Prices may moderate towards the end of the year but we don’t expect to see any drastic falls. Spending more on food is here to stay.”
There is already anecdotal evidence from market research companies that some households are switching from the four big supermarket chains to discount stores such as Aldi and Lidl. “When people feel squeezed they look to see where they can make savings, especially for a family,” Mr Saunders said.
Prices of the leading supermarkets’ own-label products were up by 5.6 per cent in four months, while branded products were up 6.1 per cent, proof that Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons were helping to ease rises, he said. “I think supermarkets are trying hard to keep prices down. They are not passing all the increased costs to the consumer.”
Even though wheat prices were escalating, the cost of an own-brand large white sliced loaf was 37p – unchanged from January. Mr Saunders said that the supermarkets’ value ranges gave shoppers the option to trade down to save money.
Similarly an increase in the number of “buy one, get one free” promotions was helping families to save money by buying in bulk.
Upmarket chains such as Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are continuing to enjoy robust sales. “These can benefit from people deciding to buy luxury food to eat at home instead of eating out. Their customers may also be feeling the pinch, but do not have to cut down hard on food bills,” Mr Saunders said.
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Weather for Dungannon
Friday 24 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 15 mph
Wind direction: North
Temperature: 7 C to 15 C
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Wind direction: South