Prices soar, food baskets shrink
THE price of core food items that families need on average a month is more expensive now than it was just six months ago.
Today, you will need just over R4 000 a month for the basics.
The PMB Economic Justice and Dignity Group conducted a household affordability index. This included comparing prices for what they call the household food basket (core nutritional items). Among these are oil, onions, tomatoes, cabbage and gizzards.
The group said that with looming hikes in electricity and transport costs – on the back of job losses and salary cuts that have affected most households – families would find it harder to buy nutritious foods.
Mervyn Abrahams, the media co-ordinator, said the index tracked food prices at supermarkets and butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town.
The group also spoke to women while conducting the survey. All agreed that it was becoming more difficult to ensure they were buying nutritious foods. The group has conducted three surveys since September.
“In September we found that the household food basket with core food items cost families R3 856.34. In February, the price increased to just over R4 000. By April this year, the average food basket rose to R4 198.93 – an increase of 8.9% (or R342.59) since September.”
He said that was of major concern. “Thirty-six out of 44 foods in the average household food basket went up. The increases were across the board as core staple foods, vegetables and meats, went up.
“From March to April this year, there was a spike of R159.37 (3.9%). This is the highest we have ever seen. The food price data in April were collected before the fuel price hike and increased fuel levies came into effect, and before the new electricity tariff of 15.63% will come into effect.”
He said some of the biggest increases were seen in:
¡ tomatoes: +33%
¡ butternut: +19%
¡ bananas: +16%
¡ cooking oil: +14%
¡ cabbage: +13%
¡ carrots: +12%
¡ gizzards: +12%
¡ onions: +12%
¡ wors: +10%
Abrahams said women indicated that their three biggest expenses at home were food, transport costs and electricity.
“They said they looked to see what they could cut down on. They cannot cut down on electricity or transport, so they cut down on food by the cheapest prices before they commit to a purchase. Women are buying cheaper and cheaper staple foods across more supermarkets. In some cases things like margarine, peanut butter and jam are being left out of the trolley.”
He said the size of the trolleys being used has also changed.
“Women mostly now use the small trolleys with two baskets. In most cases, women now purchase vegetables and fruits outside the supermarket, from vendors on the streets, because they are cheaper, unless supermarkets have special market days or if vegetable combos are cheap.
“Meat purchases have been reduced. Women tell us that when buying 5kg of frozen chicken portions, women pull out the see-through bags, hold the bags at arms-length and carefully count the pieces and evaluate the size of the pieces, so they can see how many of the pieces can be cut in half.
“Beef bones are still bought but women complain that the bones which used to have a lot more meat on them, are now nearly meatless. Wors is still a prized meat as it can make a meaty-tasting stew and can go a lot further than stewing beef or chuck.”
The women said their families ate far less meat than before and, for many, meat had been relegated to the weekend.
“In short, women are buying cheaper starches, oil, and sugar of lower nutritional quality.”
He said that when nutrients were not eaten, children can have stunted growth.
“Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition.”
He said some of the staple foods women would need to have at home were vegetables, especially yellow vegetables as they contained vitamin A, fruit, beans, samp and protein.
“It’s important to have these. However, not everyone has these every day. Some women even confessed to giving their families maize or bread only as it would help to fill them up.”
A mother of a family of five from Chatsworth, who declined to be named, has three children, two of whom are still in school.
The husband, a mechanic, earns between R2 000 and R5 000 a month, depending on the jobs he does.
The eldest works part-time at a call centre.
The mother said that at times it was difficult to manage the household expenses.
“My husband works on his own, so when he has money he gives it to me and I manage it.
“I save money in separate heaps: for food, utilities and savings. But, recently, I found that I am placing the money into food and utilities and there’s nothing in savings.
“About R3 000 goes towards our bills for the month.
“When it comes to food, I try to spend about R1 500. I buy rice, samp, polony, fish fingers, cheese, bread, sugar, vegetables and chicken.
“Every two months I get meat for my home and when I can I buy fry foods for my children’s lunch boxes. It is not easy.
“Sometimes I send them with peanut butter to school for lunch but I try as much as possible to ensure they have cheese or polony for their lunch boxes.”
She said she had relied on the government’s R350 Covid-19 support grant.
“It was not much but it helped to lessen the burden on my family, and now this grant will come to a stop. I am afraid, but I know somehow God will find a way.”