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Food bills soar at more than double the inflation rate

Published 28/01/2009

Consumers in Northern Ireland could find rising food bills an added challenge as the recession starts to bite over the coming months.

New figures provided by comparison website mySupermarket.co.uk reveal that the cost of food is going up at more than twice the official rate of inflation. The statistics show that the price of all food and drink products has risen by 6.6% during the year to January 14.

They also show even steeper price rises for staple food items — such as bread, milk and cheese — with the cost of a basket of goods rising by 16% during the past year.

The good news for bargain-hunters, however, is that there are ways to save the pennies — and even pounds — and still get value for money.

1

Examine attitudes to sell-by dates: Jonathan Maitland, presenter of one of ITV1’s flagship current affairs programmes, famously took on a challenge by going beyond the use-by dates on his food.

The writer/broadcaster ate increasingly out-of-date supermarket food for two weeks — and survived. The programme, Past its Sell-by date: A Tonight Special, was screened last June in an attempt to prove how much perfectly good food is thrown out by millions of UK consumers.

The idea that a lot of the food being thrown away is fine for eating appears to be catching on and more and more people seem keen to save money — and avoid unnecessary wastage — by buying out-of-date food.

At least that’s the basic premise behind the website www.approvedfood.co.uk, which is currently receiving so many orders for food at the end of its shelf life that it has a backlog of orders. “We specialise in selling short-dated or out-of-date ‘best before’ dry food products, as well as fully coded clearance stock. We do not however sell chilled or frozen ‘use-by’ products,” says the website.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph last night, company owner Daniel Cluderay confirmed that Northern Ireland, which accounts for just 2% of order deliveries at present, is a growing market.

However, consumers are advised to be safe when eating out-of-date products. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) advises against buying and eating food that is past its ‘use-by’ date, which applies to items such as milk and smoked fish that go off rapidly.

On the other hand, as Maitland’s programme demonstrated, a ‘best before’ date is usually longer for comparatively long-lasting foods such as frozen, dried or canned food. And, according to the FSA, food will be safe after this date, if no longer at its best. Eggs should, however, never be eaten after the ‘best before’ date, because of salmonella risks.

Approved Food has seen the number of registered customers rocket from 500 to 5,000 since the start of the economic crisis.

2

Always compare prices: Even if you don’t fancy buying groceries online, it can’t hurt to compare prices across the big grocers using mySupermarket.co.uk. Simply enter the items you wish to purchase and the website will indicate whether Asda, Tesco or Sainsbury’s is cheapest. If you register, some supermarkets will offer free delivery to encourage customers to shop via the internet.

3

Get a cashback card: Some credit cards now offer a percentage cashback on all supermarket and petrol purchases for a certain time period. But remember: customers must pay off the balance in full each month to avoid getting hit with APR charges.

4

Consider alternatives: Buying supermarket own brands is cheaper and need not necessarily mean scrimping on taste.

5

Bend your knees: Cheap items are generally found on low-level shelves, while those with the biggest profit margins are placed at eye-level.

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