Durban - Already cash-strapped and struggling to put food on their tables, consumers have been facing food price increases significantly higher than the inflation rate, the Mercury
According to the latest Food Price Monitor report, costs of even the most basic foods have increased by up to 56% in just one year.
From April 2011 to April 2012 the prices of basic food items like milk, bread, margarine, rice, maize meal and meat rocketed, with the poorest being the hardest hit.
Urban consumers paid R8.23 for a 700g loaf of brown bread and R9.19 for a loaf of 700g white bread during April 2012 – increases of 12.74% and 11.66% respectively, compared with the same time last year. The price of 5kg of special maize meal leapt by 56.01%.
Expressing concern over the figures, consumer activist Ina Wilken told the paper: "If you look at the cost of the food basket expressed as a share of the average monthly income of (this portion of the population), it increased from 34.1% in April 2011 to 38.7% in April 2012.
"But we should not be misled by this percentage change. If you look at the individual items, it is rather concerning that the most basic commodities are far above the inflation rate."
Wilken said significant price inflation of 10% or more – experienced for important products such as maize meal, bread, milk and margarine – would have a negative impact on household food security.
She added that the impact of inflation on poor consumers was plainly evident, and that it was "extremely clear" that the prices of products they were dependent on had skyrocketed.
"The question may well be asked: was this due to weather factors, imports, or excessive increases due to the fact that it is well known what the majority of people are buying?
"These are basic products that everyone needs to satisfy basic needs. Surely, due to the high turnover specifically on these products, consumers should get them cheaper?
"It is clear that consumers are under increasing pressure with higher administered prices, especially fuel and electricity. The implication of higher energy costs will mostly be felt by processed food items.
"Over the past two years, consumer spending has been supported by above-inflation wage increases and an almost record low interest rate. However, personal debt levels are high and unemployment is rife."
Local economist Bonke Dumisa said many South Africans are spending less than they need to on food, as they are trying to pay for so many other necessities. He suggested that people with tight budgets consider moving away from premier branded foods to cut costs. - The Mercury