/ Money

Can you stomach rising food prices?

Toast with a pound sign burnt on it

Right across the board you’re telling us one thing – you’re worried about the cost of food. So what’s the solution, beyond cutting back on luxuries, and do we face a future where food is consumed in a very different way?

When we launched our competition asking people what their biggest consumer concern is for the coming year, we hoped it would give us some insight into what’s pressing on people’s minds right now. As I trawled through the hundreds of entries, one of the themes that kept re-emerging was food prices.

‘We are “down-branding” on everything, and I’m saving and re-using wherever possible (e.g. teabags). I’m still struggling, and I dread to think about the future… eat less, maybe?!’ said Katie.

She could see the funny side, but others weren’t joking. Sarah is a working mum who says she finds it hard to afford healthy, fresh food. ‘I don’t want to feed my family on chips and beans but fresh fish, meat, fruit and veg is so expensive,’ she says. ‘In a growing society of obesity and unfit children I want to give my family the best possible start when it comes to healthy living but it’s getting harder to afford.’

These are just a couple of examples, but there were many more saying similar things. In fact, of around 570 entries, 111 mentioned food prices as a concern.

How are prices changing?

Having researched people’s attitudes to food prices in June, we weren’t exactly surprised by this. Of the 1,009 people we questioned, 92% had noticed an increase in prices in the past 12 months and 84% were worried about it. In fact, it came out as one of the biggest worries, second only to energy prices.

But just how much are prices creeping up? I certainly notice the difference in cost as I do my weekly shop, but I don’t really have a clue how much basic items are rising by. So it was revealing to see a breakdown of how supermarkets are doing this.

According to lovemoney.com, which scoured the database of prices stored by mysupermarket.com, there’s little consistency in how supermarkets change their prices. Take vegetable and sunflower oil, for example, which had the most dramatic range of rises. Waitrose increased the price by 41.3%, Asda by 9.5% – and Tesco actually reduced it by 4.9%!

As a lovemoney.com spokesperson commented: ‘This just goes to show how much control the supermarkets have over their pricing, despite any claims to the contrary about how they are just reacting all the time to wholesale prices.’

How to stop those food bills rising

And our survey suggests that shoppers are wising up to these tricks and being less loyal to certain brands or shops. Around six in ten people told us that they will shop around more to get the best prices.

This is one way to cope with the rises, but are there other ways to cut back? Personally, I believe in cooking from scratch as much as possible; not only is it healthier, you can cook in bulk and freeze extras. Then there are those two little words, ‘meal planning’, which used to make me feel nauseous, but suddenly seem quite appetising.

What’s the future of food?

Or, if you want to do some future gazing, turn to the Food Laboratory’s ‘Food Futures’ report. It predicts that Brits will be shunning expensive restaurants in favour of sharing meals at home with neighbours, with more informal open-air ‘street food’ gatherings.

If that doesn’t sound particularly futuristic, how about their other predictions of dining with contacts all over the world on social networks, eating with others to save energy and ‘food raves’ where hundreds of people join up for night-time food festivals?

Far-fetched, or the future? We’ll have to see, but it does provide one chink of light at the end of this gloomy tunnel – that, maybe, rising food prices will help us rediscover our sense of community.


Cheap food comes at a very high price. Worldwide food production costs have increased significantly so the cost of food will not magically go down and retailers will not reduce prices that will reduce their own profits. So the only way a supermarket can reduce the price of food would be to cover the loss by increasing the price of another item, or passing any loss back to the producer whose own costs have increased dramatically. If UK producers go out of business we would have to rely on imported food. This would mean the money would go out of the country and our balance of payments would be even worse. This affects us all as if the money goes to a UK producer he will use British goods and services and the money will circulate back into and around our own economy helping create jobs and help to strengthen the UK economy. The inflation affecting us now has been made worse by what is called “imported inflation.” Things we have to import like oil that we have no control over cause this. If we loose UK food producers by underpaying them now, we will then have to face the consequences of relying on imported food as we will have lost control of price and supply, and also of the standards of production which apply to UK producers. So please will you remember this before you rush to the store that appears to be cheapest, as cheap food comes at a very high price.

David S. says:
21 August 2011

Why should British consumers show loyalty to British meat producers when there is currently little or no evidence of reciprocity? Greater profits are to be had exporting vast quantities of lamb to eager EU customers who are eager to pay inflated prices, leaving what remains of British lamb in the UK at sky high prices!

As one of the many living alone, I find the most galling game continually played by all the supermarkets is to sell food items with a limited life at their cheapest price only when two or three, usually the same, are bought together. They don’t label them “Buy three and throw one away” but it would be all too easy to find oneself trapped into doing that.

If the supermarket can make an adequate profit at the lower price, why not simply price the single items at that level?

Well said GP, it’s all too easy for the supermarkets to encourage us to buy more fruit and veg, better profits for them, but ultimately not so good for us, because the items perish before you have chance to use them. I’ve actually dug out my cookery books and have started to make my own soup, garlic bread dough balls, etc., which although are much cheaper than buying the items in store, much more time consuming too. So now we have to juggle the work/life balance with saving money too.

GP makes a good point. Our supermarkets are not being very kind to single people and those with little cash to spare. Apart from the cost, bulk purchasing can cause a tremendous waste of food.

Even if you live alone it is possible to take advantage of the offers and share with neighbours or friends. That’s what I do. It works well until two people take advantage of the same special offer.

The other problem is that individual prices are often raised to offset the cost of the multiple discount. That’s doubly bad for anyone who wants to buy only one item.

Good point from Su about the impact on time. Time is a precious commodity nowadays, we all have to work longer hours to make a living and I think this is the main reason living healthily and cheaply is difficult. For example I used to be a vegetarian, for various reasons I’m not any more, but one thing I have noticed is that whilst it’s perfectly possible to make tasty vegetarian/vegan meals it’s a lot more fiddly and time consuming than if you use meat. I believe it’s more healthy to centre meals around vegetables rather than meat, but meat is so convenient e.g. chicken can be tasty just with salt and pepper added whereas veggies need chopping, mixing with herbs etc. I feel this particularly as I am disabled and chopping takes me longer. Yet eating meat costs more. I do think some good things will come out of the food price hikes, less wastage, simpler more healthy meals possibly. But most people struggling with money and time will probably end up eating poorer quality, more fattening convenience foods. Here’s hoping for some more food sharing and community spirit though – perhaps a freecycle-like food sharing network will spring up?

David S. says:
21 August 2011

Let us not ‘mince’ words here, meat prices are up to 50% higher than they were only 6 months ago. At un-discounted prices, this makes most meat beyond the budgets of many people — especially pensioners and families of the unemployed. British lamb is now ‘off the menu’ altogether. Vast quantities are exported to other EU countries at inflated prices, sending UK prices sky high! Even frozen NZ lamb is no longer good value. The average British consumer now relies on other less expensive meats on ‘special offer’ at supermarkets. Even these essential discounts are now less frequent, and need to be snapped up in quantity. If I can give ‘GP’ one piece of advice, here it is: If you have a freezer, learn how to use it. If not, put one on your list of ‘must-gets’! A ‘slow cooker’ is another good idea — this allows the use of cheaper ‘cuts’ of meat, and will also save on energy cooking it. Let us all hope that the government finds the will and the way of stemming the tide of rising food prices, before the health of the nation is irreparably compromised.

It is not the producer at fault, it is the retailers who have not show loyalty to consumers by screwing producer prices down so that they often cannot meet production costs.

As a result of continual price wars, food was already grossly undervalued and consumers have expected and enjoyed cheap food up until now.

Retailers may still appear to be the consumers friend as the main current selling points are related to saving money, and although extremely important to hard-pressed consumers this is not the panacea for the current severe economic difficulties faced by the population of the UK.

There is apparently no shame in farmers working long arduous hours often in difficult, dangerous and weather driven conditions and making huge losses, as retailers complain about negative growth while their profits still increase.

British Agriculture has the ability to continue to provide the widespread stability and economic growth the country needs and that rural communities rely on.

This must surely take precedence over the economic growth of already large individual supermarkets, and retailers must share the pain like everyone else by returning some of the substantially increased margin over retail prices they have greedily gained over the last ten years instead of stealthily transferring increased costs to producers or consumers.

If retailers had kept food prices realistic when times were better, and not screwed down producer margins to pay for loss leaders like milk etc, this would not have now caused such a “double whammy” for consumers.

With extortionate costs to cover who can blame producers for helping their business survive by bypassing the retailers to sell their produce to those who appreciate its value and the cost of its production.

While continual cut-price supermarket promotions may appear to help consumers, particularly low-income families, by keeping prices down in the short term, these promotions must be paid for in some other way at some point.

Food sold too cheaply on promotion encourages purchase of more food than is needed, leading to waste of good food. It also leads to lower quality of food, production standards and unfair trade that passes costs back to producers.

Promotions are also extremely unfair on the elderly and others who do not want or need more than they will use so end up paying a disproportionate amount for single items.

Retailers ought to support UK producers by paying a fair price and if consumers value their food and want to ensure their food is of a decent quality, is produced to a good standard and that their is a secure food supply for the future they must support fair trade for UK producers and costs could be cut by wasting less.

David S. says:
21 August 2011

KC and I should understand one another. I am talking about ordinary poor people who are attempting to feed themselves and their families, not those few fortunate rich people who can afford to shop at extortionately expensive farm shops.

Yes David S and I should understand one another.

I am talking about large corporate companies who can well afford to assist ordinary poor people who are attempting to feed themselves and their families, while also paying UK producers the fair price needed to keep a business viable.

Producing food is a huge responsibility and financial risk far greater than that of retailers who very often also take more than their fair share of what consumers pay them.

Also David, please remember that poor people will become even poorer if we have to rely on food coming from abroad as prices will rocket if foreign suppliers have no competition from UK producers. Remember also that while our manufacturing industry is on its knees we will always need food, and British food producers circulate a lot of money around our economy which provides jobs for people.

For example, an average sized dairy farm alone may have over 60 suppliers. They have their own suppliers and employees, all of who use local shops, pubs, garages, tradesmen etc.

So the success or failure of farms with consistent high turnovers of business impacts on many, and ought to remain the pivotal and essential part of our economy they have been for centuries”.

Regarding those few fortunate rich people who can afford to shop at extortionately expensive farm shops, if they can afford to do that what is the problem as it may help keep the producer in business, and how will it help the poor if they change to a diet of gruel?

Get real David, this is just the politics of envy and is as unfair as saying that all poor people don’t work and choose to spend their money on smoking, drinking, designer clothes, plasma TV and junk food – even though there are actually more than a few who do.

I have heard many conversations from third generation benefit claimants – often applying for Crisis loans – who say they cannot afford to feed their family. Often on Fridays (need money for the night out), or Mondays (spent up on the night out), whilst also discussing things like where to get expensive tickets for concert venues, what they did on their night out or displaying acrylic nails or an elaborate tattoo.

Nothing will ever be fair at either end of the scale, so please lets concentrate on somewhere in between and support our UK producers so we keep some hold over price, supply, and production standards within the UK while also keeping money circulating within our own economy.

David S. says:
22 August 2011

I said nothing at all about putting UK farmers out of business. Living in a rural community myself, I certainly would not want this. However, what Hannah Jolliffe has aked us to do is specifically to suggest means to address the crisis phenomenon of rapidly rising food prices. I regret that no single link in our nation’s vital food supply chain can consider itself immune from examination and appropriate criticism. This of course includes the primary producer.

I totally agree on scrutiny of all involved in the food chain, including the drivers of the free market.

Regarding the situation of the primary producer. Despite producing to the highest farm-assured Red Tractor standards – which supermarkets insist upon – British farmers then have to deal with ruthless downward price pressure by the same supermarkets, who in the meantime search the world looking for the cheapest product they can source, with little regard for the high and costly production standards they impose on British farmers. This is why supermarkets have fought so hard against mandatory Country of Origin Labelling so that consumers are often unaware of what they may be buying.

For consumers to address the phenomenon of rapidly increasing food prices:

Value your food and consider its worth as well as its rising cost.

Find out what the Red Tractor standard means

Wherever you choose to shop, take more interest in the food you are buying, look at where it was produced and what it contains, use seasonal food, go for quality, taste and nutritional value.

To save money on food, plan your meals, waste less and cut out the expensive junk food.

Are you eating more than you need, perhaps?

Find a family/ budget/cooking for one, etc,etc…. recipe book (in the library.)

Don’t fall for the Bogoff’s if they aren’t what you really need, and make sure larger sizes are actually cheaper.

Stick to your list and keep your eyes peeled for distractions eg Look at this special offer then you won’t notice that other items have gone up to compensate.

We’ve saved a mint simply by shopping around and, where we can, bulk buying. simple example of shopping around – a loaf of bread in the local Co-op Supermarket is £1.24. The same loaf of bread in a nearby local shop is 99p and even in Lidl, the same loaf is reduced from their usual £1.14 to a bit over a quid. Around here, the Co-op seems to be aggressive. When someone opened a little fruit and veg shop, the Co-op kept dropping its prices until the little shop couldn’t compete. As soon as it closed, Co-op raised its prices again. They also used to match a local garage’s petrol prices but their unleaded was 95RON and the garage’s was 98 (only marginally better MPG figure but it’s the principle). (Then they bought the garage so still match-price with the same difference in quality!)

Then we worked out how much we spent in time and petrol going to supermarkets (we use the Co-op as little as possible now) and it works out cheaper to buy online and have the stuff delivered. Plus ordering online avoids the temptation of in-store offers.

Finally we’ve started buying in bulk. Instead of buying a Sunday joint each week, we buy the biggest we can find on offer every few months. Cook it (works out cheaper to cook), slice it and freeze it in portion sizes. Then on a Sunday the portions get added to the top of the steamer we’ve got the veg in. Saves time, effort, gas/electricity and we get a cheaper price per kilo in the shop. And if it turns out that someone wants beef and someone else wants pork, its absolutely no problem. We’re still using turkey from the big bird we cooked last Christmas! Plus this keeps the freezer fuller and a full freezer costs less to run than an empty one.

I’ve also found I can make considerable savings by having large refrigerating and freezer capability – I have several very large dogs who need quantities of bones that cost a fortune buying by bone in the pet shop or butchers – The same with fruit and meat for me. Much food can be frozen in the freezer without reduction in quality.

Rebecca martin says:
27 May 2012

So why cant the government produce common land and encourage rabbits , hairs , wood pigeons and give every citizen of the uk the right to hunt. when i was a child i used to snare rabbits , shot pigeons help my mum on the allotment growing veg if food is so expensive why are we not empowering our citizens to be more self sufficient.

Perhaps local authorities should in fact run classes to teach these skills. In our house when i was growing up we were never short of good food.

Does animal cruelty not concern you? At least some effort is taken to prevent unnecessary suffering when domesticated animals are reared and killed for food.

Growing vegetables in allotments and gardens seems a better idea.

KC says:
27 May 2012

Have you really thought this one through?
From where will the government produce this common land?
They would have to increase taxes to buy it, and that is providing the owners were willing to sell it.

Hi, went to our local Co-op today 29th Sept 2017, last week Scottish Strawberries were £2.00 for 300 g today they are £2.00 for 227 g; last week Scottish Blueberries were £2.00 for 150 g today they are £2.00 for 125 g. What is going on?

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