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Food prices tripling in as many months. Justified?

Diane Hall



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Food prices in the UK have been rising at a concerning rate over the past year, with many consumers experiencing significant increases in their grocery bills. Whilst some of these price hikes may be attributed to global economic factors, such as Brexit and the Covid pandemic, others are the result of more localised issues, such as supply chain disruptions and labour shortages.

According to recent data from the Office for National Statistics, food prices in the UK rose by 4.2% in February 2022, compared to the same month the previous year. This is the highest annual increase since October 2017, and it’s significantly above the Bank of England's target inflation rate of 2%. This increase has been felt most acutely by low-income households, which spend a larger proportion of their income on food.

One factor contributing to higher food costs is the increase in global commodity prices, particularly for grains and oilseeds. This is partly due to the ongoing supply chain disruptions brought about by the pandemic, which have resulted in a lack of raw materials and increased transportation costs. In addition, there has been a surge in demand for biofuels, which has driven up the price of grains and oilseeds. This, in turn, has led to higher prices for meat, dairy, and other food products, as animal feed costs have risen.

Another factor is the labour shortages the UK is experiencing, particularly in the hospitality and food production sectors. The pandemic, again, has resulted in many workers leaving these industries, and the UK's new immigration policy has made it harder for businesses to recruit staff from overseas. This has led to increased labour costs for some companies, which have been passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

Brexit has also had an impact on food prices in the UK. The decision to leave the European Union has resulted in trade disruptions and increased bureaucracy, which has made it harder and more expensive for UK businesses to import and export goods. This has led to shortages of some products and increased prices for others.

Though these factors are real enough, some argue that the level of price increase is not entirely justified. Many supermarkets and food producers have reported record profits during the pandemic, and some have been accused of taking advantage of the situation to raise prices unfairly. In addition, some critics argue that the UK's food system is too reliant on imports; they claim that greater investment in domestic food production could help reduce prices and increase resilience in the sector.

There have been calls for the government to take action to address the rising cost of food. Some have suggested that a temporary reduction in VAT on food products could help ease the financial burden on consumers, particularly poorer households. 

If it’s true that such as supermarkets and household name brands are milking the situation, they will only have themselves to blame when their profits dip as a response. For example, I was a steadfast purchaser of brands such as Bisto gravy, Kellogg’s cereal, Heinz soups, Lurpak butter, etc. because cheaper alternatives didn’t taste as rich or as nice. However, everything has an upper limit, in regards to the price consumers are willing to pay, and I reached mine with every single one of those brands I’ve listed. The taste thing was quickly overcome when it meant saving more than half the price if I purchased an alternative, cheaper brand or the supermarket’s basic line, as well as cutting back on consumption of the item altogether. It’s amazing what you get used to when you have to. Would I go back to the ‘luxury’ brands if their prices halved overnight? I doubt it, as it’s shown me just how much I paid for a label, rather than the production of a foodstuff. I can’t be alone in that.

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