The soaring cost of Sunday roast: Extreme weather causing dramatic food price rises in U.K. – ‘A disaster for public health’Posted by Jim at Monday, October 15, 2012
By Sean Poulter
12 October 2012
Families are giving up their traditional Sunday roast as the cost of both meat and vegetables soar.
In fact, many are cutting back on fresh food altogether.
Farmers and supermarkets are blaming the meat price explosion – which is likely to continue beyond Christmas – on the rising cost of feed for livestock.
Harvests of grain to make the feed have been hit by the wettest summer in a century in the UK while there have been droughts in major grain producers America and Russia.
Those droughts and, more importantly, the wet weather here, have driven up the cost of fruit, vegetables and basics such as potatoes and corn.
For families on tight budgets in the middle of the worst economic downturn since the 1930s, the perfect storm of global events and national factors has caused one of the most dramatic increases in prices on supermarket shelves for decades.
Startling rises in the cost of meat over the past year – only a taste of what is to come – have been revealed by the MySupermarket price comparison website.
For example, 251g packs of British diced chicken sold by Sainsbury’s are up by 50 per cent in a year to £2.50, while its own-label thick pork sausages rose 42 per cent to £1.19. At Asda, the price of rump steak is up by 22 per cent to £11 a kilo.
For those preparing a Sunday roast, a whole leg of Waitrose West Country lamb of around 1.8kg is up 13 per cent to £23.38, while at Sainsbury’s a 600g Taste the Difference Outdoor Reared British Pork Shoulder with bramley apple stuffing is up 8 per cent at £4.19.
Many shoppers are turning to value lines to put meat on the table, though some of the biggest rises have come in this area.
An 800g pack of Tesco’s Everyday Value Beef Mince is up by 50 per cent to £2.89, while an 800g pack of Everyday Value Pork Chops is up by a quarter to £2.50.
The price rises on meat are not universal and some products are cheaper. However, the poorest ten per cent of households are buying 26 per cent less meat than five years ago, according to a study [pdf] for the Government’s food and farming department, Defra.
This pattern is being repeated among Middle Britain households, and one study suggests 93 per cent of shoppers rely on vouchers and coupons to save on their food bills.
The same Defra study found that poorer households are also eating 25 per cent less fresh fruit and 15 per cent less vegetables than five years ago.
Tim Lang, professor of food policy at London’s City University, warns that this threatens a ‘disaster for public health’. […]
By Rebecca Smithers and Fiona Harvey, www.guardian.co.uk
12 October 2012
It was the £1.99 Tesco chicken that, four years ago, came to symbolise cheap supermarket food and helped to galvanise consumers into questioning the provenance and economics of the staple items in their shopping basket.
In its new branch in Saxmundham – the Suffolk market town that even longer ago famously fought off plans for an out-of-town Tesco superstore – the £4 fresh chickens in the chiller cabinet are being ignored by the late afternoon shoppers who are favouring items covered in "reduced" stickers.
Among them is mother-of-two Jackie Long, who has popped in on her way home from work and picked up a 2.5kg bag of Maris Piper potatoes which has been further discounted to 95p. "They'll last another week, mashed, chipped and in stews," she says. "I do my main weekly shop at the Co-op but this is on my way home and around teatime they tend to slash the prices. I have really noticed prices going up in the last six months, particularly of things like bread, coffee and fresh fruit. They've all become a bit of a luxury."
A straw poll of customers at this store – just across the road from its arguably more well-heeled and soon-to-expand competitor Waitrose – reveals that shoppers of all ages and from all social backgrounds are more worried about price hikes than anything else when it comes to making their produce choices.
This mirrors findings from a recent government survey which showed that in May the main food issue of concern to 63% of respondents was food prices – an increase from 60% in November last year.
Even ethical considerations have dropped down their list of considerations, according to a separate survey by charity IGD ShopperVista which showed that price is crucial in determining product choice, with 41% of shoppers naming it as the most important factor and 90% listing it within their top five influences. Ethical provenance was considered least important – mirrored in the 3.7% slump in sales of organic food and drink last year.
Affordability is now the key factor in determining what food and drink we buy. Food prices have risen 12% in real terms over the last five years, taking us back to 1997 in terms of the cost of food relative to other goods. This week cash-strapped consumers – already stung by extra financial pressures such as rising petrol costs, inflation-busting rail fares and further hikes in their energy bills – were warned to expect further food price rises as a result of the drought in the US and the washed out UK summer that have affected the supply and quality of crops.
Record droughts in large swaths of the US's key agricultural lands have depressed the harvest there, leading to higher cereal prices internationally. All of this has led to a sharp increase in wheat prices in the UK – from £150 a tonne to more than £205 a tonne. Although supermarkets have said they will try to keep down the impact on consumers, this will almost inevitably mean higher bread prices. It is also bad news for meat prices, as farmers struggle to pay for feed for their livestock.
The combination of a severe drought early in the year, followed by the wettest early summer on record, has produced some of the worst possible conditions for Britain's farmers, decimating yields and leaving crops prone to disease. Wheat was the crop worst hit by the heavy rainfall, with a 14% fall in yields, according to the National Farmers' Union.
Other crops have also suffered severe damage. The British Growers Association (BGA), representing vegetable farmers, said the pea harvest was down about 45% - a reduction that will mean huge imports to make up the shortfall of one of the UK's most popular vegetables.
The much-anticipated Christmas dinner is likely to be dearer too. Poultry producers have seen their overheads increase dramatically, owing to the poor grain harvest, which has pushed up the price of chicken and turkey feed. Early projections show there will be one-fifth fewer Brussels sprouts this year thanks to the weather. Parsnips have had a poor season and the effects of discolouration on potatoes are still to be fully felt. […]
All this has put national food policy under the spotlight. The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) reported last week in a barely noticed 50-page statistical document - the Food Statistics Pocketbook 2012 - that UK food prices have increased by 32% between 2007 and 2012. As a result, lower income families have cut their consumption of fruit and vegetables by nearly one-third to just over half of the five-a-day portions recommended for a healthy diet. No surprise, then, that internet companies selling food past its "best before" date (but still safe to eat) at knock-down prices – known in the industry as "the grey market" – are enjoying a boom. […]