Britain’s era of cheap food is over, amid cost of living crisis
UK households have been warned that Britain’s “golden era” of cheap food is over, as official figures published on Friday pointed to the toll of the cost of living crisis, with two in five people buying less food.
The former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King said British shoppers now faced hard choices over how to spend their money as the financial shock, caused by the war in Ukraine, pushes up prices on supermarket shelves.
“We have been perhaps through a golden era,” King, a senior figure in UK’s retail industry, told the Guardian. “I suspect what we will see is a higher proportion, across the piece, spent on food for the longer term.”
His concerns were echoed by senior figures across the retail and farming industries, as households prepare to weather a surge in inflation.
Economists believe official statistics next Wednesday will show that overall prices increased 9% in April, while the Bank of England is forecasting the rate will pass 10% later this year, the highest since 1982.
The head of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents all the major supermarkets, agreed that “consumers are in for a difficult time”.
Global food prices are at a record high, propelled by growing energy and transport costs, as well as an extremely tight labour market, its chief executive Helen Dickinson said.
Fierce competition among supermarkets has so far limited price rises on essential products, but Dickinson said pressures in the food industry “do not look to be easing anytime soon”.
Britain’s cost of living crisis is already forcing people to make big changes. Two in five adults are buying less food when they go shopping, according to the latest public opinions and social trends survey published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Friday. The figure is double the reading at the start of 2022.
Nine out of 10 of the adults polled told the ONS their three big worries were food and energy bills, and the price at the gas pumps.
People were cutting back spending on non-essentials, trying to use less power and heating, and avoiding unnecessary trips in their cars. They had also started shopping around more to find the cheapest prices. Two in five did not think they would be able to save any money in the next 12 months.
Runaway prices were forcing people to make some “really horrible financial decisions”, said Sarah Coles, a senior personal finance analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. The number of people having to spend less on food was “alarming”, she added. “It’s no wonder that a third of us are so anxious.”