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Ulster food bills soar by £750 a year

By Claire McNeilly

Grocery bills for Northern Ireland families have gone up by £750 for a year in the last 12 months, new figures reveal, which shows inflation is still hitting food prices hard.

Householders who have been burdened with rising electricity and gas bills are also facing a substantial rise in the cost of essential foodstuffs, according to a leading price comparison website.

A basket of staple goods such as bread, butter, milk, cheese and mince meat from Northern Ireland’s top supermarkets cost 14.3% more in October than a year ago.

But the good news is that two of the ‘Big Three’ have reduced the price of their shopping baskets for a second consecutive month., which conducted a survey of the cost of 24 common items such as tea bags and pasta sauce, said the increase, which is almost three times higher than the official rate of inflation, meant a family of four who had previously spent £100 a week on food would see the annual bills rise by £743.60.

The figures come after the Office for National Statistics said last week that the cost of living was rising at the fastest rate in 16 years, with food inflation hitting 11.3% in September.

Many staple items have been hit by the rising price of wheat.

This has had a direct effect on the cost of many basic items such as bread and pasta, and increased the price of food for livestock, which is passed on by farmers to consumers through higher prices for meat and dairy products.

But rises in the prices of wheat-based and dairy products have more than offset decreases in the cost of other staples such as sugar and potatoes.'s survey showed a 29p (or 15%) increase in the price of six pints of semi-skimmed milk at Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, with shoppers now paying £2.25 compared to £1.96 a year ago.

Basmati rice has seen the biggest jump of between 93% and 119% across all three supermarkets with a 1kg bag at Sainsbury’s up from 90p to £1.97.

Egg prices at each of the supermarkets have also increased by up to 32%, with Asda now charging £2.58 compared to £1.95 last October, while the price of a block of cheddar cheese has risen by nearly 40%.

The survey also found that a packet of fusilli pasta has increased in price by more than two-thirds to 79p, while a 500g pack of minced beef costs £2.20, up 57% at Tesco.

According to, over the past year the cost of a thick white loaf has gone up by as much as 39%, from 54p to 65p at Asda, while it now costs 71p at Tesco and 75p at Sainsbury’s.

“Shoppers are now paying 14.3% more for their staple basket items than last October, which is a large increase,” said Johnny Stern, director of the website.

“However, we are starting to see some good news. This is the smallest year-on-year increase we have seen since March 2008.”

Mr Stern added that customers can save money by shopping around: “Comparing prices, taking advantage of special offers, and looking out for better priced like-for-like items means shoppers can stick with their preferred supermarket whilst also combating the credit crunch.”

Industry experts predict a fall in food prices in the coming months, as the price of oil continues to drop. This should in turn bring down the cost if transport and packaging — the biggest cost that most food manufacturers face.

That news will be welcomed by hard-pressed families who cut back on luxury purchases long ago and are still struggling to make ends meet.

And already there appears to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

Looking at the October figures compared with those for September, the cost of a shopping basket has dropped at both Tesco and Asda, although it has risen slightly at Sainsbury’s.

That means consumers will now pay £26.45 for an average basket at Asda (down £1.42 on last month), £29.99 at Sainsbury's (up 60p) and £28.79 at Tesco (down 78p).

The fall in price, although small, represents a welcome saving for householders who are battling ever-increasing bills.

It’s also the second drop in two months, after the cost of staples at the three major retailers hit an annual high in August.

Indeed, since then, Asda has dropped the price of basics by 7% (from £28.45), while Tesco has cut the cost of an average basket by almost 4% (from £29.90). Sainsbury’s, meanwhile, has seen its staples offering rise by 1% (from £29.67) over the same period, according to figures supplied by data.

All three retailers charge the same amount for a total of six basic items, including milk, cheese, bananas, cucumber, and own-label Corn Flakes.

But after careful comparison, prices can vary considerably depending on individual products — with customers able to save pounds per product specific shop.

Buy beef mince (500g) in Asda for £1 and you can save £1.20 on Tesco and Sainsbury's price offer of £2.20, for example.

A saving of 51p can be made on a bag of potatoes (2.5kg) at Tesco, where it cost £1.48, compared with £1.99 at Sainsbury's and £1.98 at Asda.

Meanwhile, 80 teabags cost 13p less at Asda and Sainsbury's (£1.29) than they do at Tesco (£1.42).|

All figures based on MySuper data

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