Belfast Telegraph

One in six say the cost of groceries is too high

By Claire McNeilly

One in six people in Northern Ireland do not believe that retailers are charging a fair price for food, according to a local watchdog.

New research by the Consumer Council also reveals that shoppers are often confused by the deals and price promotions offered in supermarkets.

A report, Hard to Stomach, published on Tuesday, looks at the impact that rising food costs is having on people.

Antoinette McKeown, the organisation's chief executive, said people are worried by rising prices of what is an essential.

She added: “Our report highlights the anxiety being felt by consumers throughout Northern Ireland in light of rising food bills.”

The Northern Ireland Retail Consortium (NIRC) has given the new report a cautious welcome.

Its director, Aodhan Connolly, said it was “disappointing that some of the benefits retailers bring to consumers have not been identified”.

Among the findings of the Consumer Council’s study was that almost nine in 10 people (87%) said they worried about the cost of food — irrespective of age, income or demographics.

The majority of consumers (94%) reported noticing an increase in food prices over the past 12 months, with 64% saying they thought food had become much more expensive.

Research also revealed that 34% of people make fewer impulse buys, while 29% buy less in general and 28% plan meals more carefully to avoid waste.

The report says that families in Northern Ireland have been hardest hit by a steep drop in disposable income, with just £82 left per week after bills and essentials compared to a GB average of £149.

Ms McKeown said that an element of mistrust existed between consumers and food traders on certain price issues.

However, Mr Connolly said that there were misconceptions that must be tackled. He said Northern Ireland has one of the cheapest shopping baskets compared with the rest of Europe because of competition between retailers.

A Belfast Telegraph investigation last year revealed that basic groceries have rocketed in cost by almost one-fifth for Northern Ireland householders in the last four years.

Background

Food prices have risen 32% since 2007, reports the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. That has meant the average wage growth of low income households has been outstripped by price increases in food. The average household spent 11% of total expenditure on food in 2010, rising to 15% for low income households.

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