We often imagine that real austerity has not yet hit Northern Ireland, but if you read our Life cover today on the struggle many families face to pay for their weekly food bill you may change your mind.
According to the Consumer Council, the cost of the average bill at the checkout has gone up by £10-£30 in the last year — and nine out of 10 shoppers are worried at the|rising cost of food.
Such is the level of concern, many people are now changing their buying habits, which inevitably means that items like fresh produce, especially fruit, are being ignored and cheaper options being explored.
That may be a false economy in terms of|nutrition, but it is an alternative being forced on many families. With unemployment continuing to rise and one in five young people being unable to find work, the portents for any rapid improvement in the local economy are not good.
While supermarkets are generally regarded as providing cheaper food than local stores or even markets, it is clear from the evidence collected by the Consumer Council that consumers are still wary of the big multiples. There is concern that the skillfully marketed special offers are not really as good value as they pretend, and that charging a fair price for foodstuff would be a better way to|increase consumer confidence.
It would also be a boon to hard-pressed|producers who accuse the supermarkets of|short-changing them. However, the real concern is those families on or near the breadline. Food banks, essentially giving out free food, are not|uncommon throughout the province and a wide range of people are availing of the service.
There is also a need for health promotion bodies to make advice on food purchases, the best value produce, and the most nutritious ingredients for meals more readily available. People can be|seduced by low prices or the ubiquitous buy-one-get-one-free offers, but these may not be good value either economically or healthwise.