The cost of essential food items such as cheese, butter and bread has soared by more than 30 per cent in the last two years, states a recent report, highlighting how poorer households are forced to “make desperate choices between keeping up with their bill payments or putting food on the table”,””.
According to research by consumer body Which? shared exclusively with the Guardian, food price inflation has slowed in recent months but costs remain much higher than they were two years ago.
The annual pace of grocery price growth cooled to 14.9 per cent over the four weeks to 9 July, down from 16.5 per cent a month earlier, according to the latest analysis by retail industry data provider Kantar. Despite the slowdown, Which? figures showed that food prices have risen significantly over the past two years, and some products have gone up more than 30 per cent since 2021.
The food products with the highest rates of inflation are milk (36.4 per cent), cheese (35.2 per cent), butters and spreads (32.2 per cent), cakes and cookies (31.2 per cent), and bakery items (30.3 per cent).
Vegetable prices are up 19.1 per cent since May-July 2021, meat prices are up 23.6 per cent and savoury pies and pastries and quiches are up 26.2 per cent. Biscuit prices have increased by 27 per cent and juice drinks and smoothies are up 28.6 per cent.
Richard Lane, director of external affairs at debt charity StepChange, said, “The rising cost of living is forcing households to reassess their budgets and cut back to make ends meet. Food inflation remains high and has pushed the price of basics up significantly.
“These rises are hitting the poorest the hardest, as it creates a poverty premium where those on tighter budgets are unable to save by buying in bulk and end up spending more money on food and essentials, as they shop little and often.”
“As food costs continue to rise, the knock-on effects can be felt elsewhere, with people having to make desperate choices between keeping up their bills or putting food on the table,” he added.
StepChange research found one in seven people had recently skipped meals or gone without a healthy diet in order to keep up with credit repayments – rising to nearly one in three for those on universal credit.
Helen Barnard, director of policy, research and impact at the Trussell Trust, the food bank network, said: “Inflation is hitting those on the lowest incomes hardest, with the cost of essentials like food and energy – which account for far more of their budget than is the case for people on higher incomes – rising especially steeply.”
She added that last year, the food banks in its network experienced higher levels of need than ever before, distributing almost 3m parcels to people who could not afford essentials.
“Donations also increased, reflecting the public’s great generosity even at a time of increased financial pressure for many, but rising need outpaced donations. This led to food banks having to purchase 124% more food than they did the previous year, at a time when prices are higher than ever, putting a significant strain on their operating costs.”
Which? has called on grocers to make affordable and healthy basic food ranges available across all their stores, to ensure that offers and promotions are used to support those who are struggling and are targeted at healthy foods, and to make sure their pricing is clear.
This comes a day after supermarket Tesco announced late last week that the retailer would be introducing cheaper own-brand range items in its convenience stores, but said more needed to be done, pointing out that own-brand items were still more expensive than budget ranges.
Sue Davies, head of food policy at Which?, said, “Despite well-advertised price cuts, Which?’s tracker shows that the cost of essentials like milk and butter is still very high and piling huge pressure on millions, which is why access to budget ranges is more important than ever to help people save money.”