/ 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.

Comments
Guest

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.

Guest
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!

Guest

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?

Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest

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.

Guest

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?

Guest

It’s pretty surprising to hear that over half of UK households waste at least 10% of all the food they buy and a fifth waste over a 25%.

http://www.lg.com/uk/press-release/article/uk-households-throw-away-over-5-billion-worth-of-food-each-year.jsp

Surely one of the best ways to save money on food is to waste less?