Northern Ireland families face further grocery bill hikes as a global food crisis threatens to take hold.
The bad news comes after it emerged that consumers are now facing the fastest rise in the cost of food for 17 years.
With the international cost of cereals up by almost 50% in a year, meat and diary products have rocketed - with other commodities threatening to follow suit.
Added to the impact of the credit crunch, as well as acute hikes in fuel, energy and mortgage costs, experts predict that the average family will have to fork out a staggering £1,500 a year extra - just to keep up.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph today, a spokesman for the Office for National Statistics said that the food spend in Northern Ireland is already considerably more than anywhere else in the UK.
"The average household in Northern Ireland (comprising 2.7 people) spends £53.60 per week on food and non-alcoholic drinks,"
"That means 12% of the weekly expenditure is on commodities, compared with a UK average of 10%."
But although the average family in Northern Ireland spent £2,787 on food and non-alcoholic drink in 2007, new research suggests that this may rise to almost £3,400.
In other words, consumers - whose wallets are already stretched - will need to find in excess of £600 a year, just to put meals on the table.
A Consumer Council spokeswoman today warned there are tough times ahead.
"The assault on the household budget is relentless with the rising costs of food, electricity, gas, home heating oil and rates," the spokeswoman said.
"With incomes staying the same, this is a particularly worrying time for all consumers, especially those on low incomes. It is more important than ever for consumers to shop around and find the best deal for goods and services."
Official data released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics revealed that output prices (the amount factories pay for raw materials) rose by a record annual rate of 20.6% in March.
Output prices (the figure charged by manufacturers for all goods), rose by 6.2%, which is the highest annual increase for 17 years. The output price of food was up by 8.5%.
World-wide food shortages have been linked to poor harvests as a result of droughts and floods.
This - coupled with export restrictions and an array of other factors - has helped push prices up.
Doris Leeman, from the Northern Ireland Grain Trade Association (NIGTA), warned that the situation is not likely to improve.
"Farmers are paying a high price for both fertiliser and grain this year, which will make food expensive," she said.
"The consumer has got used to cheap food, and they are beginning to pay proper prices for food, but they are not used to that."
Supermarkets try to restrain price increases, according to experts, but will always pass on a portion of rising wholesale food prices to the consumer.
The main question, therefore, surrounds the extent to which they will react over the coming months.
Research by the website MySupermarket.co.uk suggests the price of an average shopping basket has risen by 11% since last year.
Before the recent hike, its experts calculated that a family spending £100 a week on groceries a year ago would now annually have to pay £572 extra.
Now, however, it is possible that this figure will surge to over £600.
The website's surveys show that some types of bread are up by 33%, pasta by 80% and rice by 32%. Eggs have increased by around 40%, chicken by more than 70% and beef by more than 60%.
Johnny Stern, managing director of MySupermarket.co.uk - the independent grocery comparison site which carried out the research - said the price hikes were only to be expected.
But he added that consumers can avoid paying over the odds for their food.
"Savvy shoppers can avoid paying over the odds," he said.
"Clever shopping for groceries can cut the weekly grocery bill by around 20%, which more than covers the rise in raw food products."