Runaway high prices make shopping a nightmare in SA
I’VE JUST spent six weeks abroad and came home to the proverbial empty cupboard – and a nasty pricetag shock.
Last Thursday, I tried to stock my single-person fridge. I say “tried” because I was stopped in my trainers by the numbers involved. I couldn’t believe how much more expensive everything had become in the relatively short time I was away. I got as far as the tea and coffee aisle, swallowed hard and left the shops in a daze – and emptyhanded.
Interest rates continue on the way down; the petrol price is a highway from that nightmarish R10 a litre. But prices are not following suit. It seems fair to conclude that somebody is laughing all the way to the bank and it’s not me, nor any one I know.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I went on a mini-spending spree in Paris and small town Germany.
I couldn’t believe that – despite the exchange rate – I could actually afford a very popular casual brand.
Back home, I can’t fork out the R350 for a T-shirt which costs a mere R130 in Europe. And let’s not even talk about the funky pants I purchased at a third of the price they go for in Cape Town. Or the hand-stitched, ergonomic leather shoes. Or the cool sports trainers. Yep, it was just so easy for this “poor African” to support rich European economies – the price was right.
For years South Africans were told price hikes were due, in large part, to the rising petrol price.
When the fuel costs dropped, but prices stayed up, we were told petrol was only one element in a much larger cost structure.
Does the same apply to the cost of bread now that the wheat price has dropped by much more than a third over the past year?
I cannot shake that nagging memory of the Competition Commission fining Tiger Brands R98.7 million in November 2007 for its role in collusion and cartel practices in the baking and milling sec- tor. Come to think of it, in a similar collusion investigation in the dairy industry one producer has already paid R100 000 as a settlement fee after the Competition Commission indicated the four largest producers, among others, exchanged price infor mation.
A similar probe took place in the steel sector and into Sasol, which was fined just over R250m for anticompetitive behaviour in the fertiliser industry in May this year.
Just before I went abroad, the financial pages were filled with explanations of the high cost to consumers buying in the formal market.
In summary, the argument is that it will take a while yet for interest rate cuts and declining food pro- duction prices to filter through the system.
One of the frequently stated reasons is that companies concluded long-term agreements when prices were high, presumably on the rather pessimistic expectation that prices would continue to go up.
Well the price consumers pay certainly has.
Going shopping is a nightmare, even for a middle-class consumer with the time and enough petrol in the car to shop for bargains all across town. And one needs to be sharp to avoid paying more than necessary.
Why is it that when I compare prices according to the size/weight, very often those products without a brand label seem to be more expen- sive than the branded ones?
Last month I got my environmentally-friendly washing powder at R54 at a national retail store. Three weeks later I needed a refill, but the price was R64. That’s when I discovered it was more worth my while to buy imported, environmentallyfriendly dishwashing liquid than our domestic version. The “Made in the US” product, by the way, cleans better.
Obviously companies need to make a profit. But is it wrong to expect the habitues of the boardroom to take responsibility not only for filling the pockets of shareholders, but also for the well-being of citizens?
My rather bourgeois tastes put me in a tiny – and privileged – per- centage of the population.
It’s even worse for the poor: the prices of bread, milk and maize, staple foods for the overwhelming majority of people, have soared. Warnings have been sounded about people, particularly children, being on the verge of malnutrition as families cut down on food .
I can afford to cut down on food without compromising basic nutrition. I also have the time, petrol and cash to choose to shop at the familyrun deli, fruit and veg shop and bakery, where superior quality is a minor trade-off for slightly higher prices. Millions of South Africans can’t. Perhaps it is time for consumers to engage in some “service delivery” protests.