Food prices still hammering consumers in South Africa

 ·30 Aug 2023

South Africans have been forking out large sums of money on food in recent months, and prices continued to climb in August.

According to Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD)’s latest Household Affordability Index for August 2023, the average cost of the Household Food Basket is R5,124.34.

This marks a 0.8% month-on-month increase in the Household Food Basket from the R5,081.94 in July 2023, and a 7.3% year-on-year increase from the R5,124.34 in August 2023.

Notably, the year-on-year increase is much lower than food inflation tracked by Stats SA, which hit 9.9% in July, from 11.0% in June. However, the increases are higher than headline inflation – which is often used to determine salary increases.

Headline inflation is now at 4.6% in July, down from 5.4% in June.

“The foods which make up the core staples, and which are prioritized first in the trolley and the purse, remain stubbornly high. In August 2023, these foods cost R2,826.37,” the PMBEJD said.

“These foods take up a large proportion of the money households have available to buy food. Because these foods are core staples, they must be bought regardless of price escalations. Over the past year, these core staple foods have gone up by R201.44 or 7.7%.”

The PMBEJD basket has 44 core food items that are regularly bought by lower-income households.

Of these 44 items, 39 have seen year-on-year increases. The five largest of which are:

  • Onions: 84%
  • Potatoes: 45%
  • Butternut: 31%
  • Oranges: 30%
  • Carrots: 22%

However, there are four products that have seen price decreases:

  • Cooking oil: -29%
  • Beef: -4%
  • Inyama yangaphakathi: -10%
  • Margarine : -3%

This is how basket prices have changed regionally:

  • The Joburg basket increased by R64,28 (1,2%) month-on-month, and increased by R327,28 (6,7%) year-on-year, to R5 215,79 in August 2023.

  • The Durban basket increased by R47,73 (1,0%) month-on-month, and increased by R261,62 (5,4%) year-on-year, to R5 069,40 in August 2023.

  • The Cape Town basket increased by R7,24 (0,1%) month-on-month, and increased by R437,40 (9,5%) year-on-year, to R5 062,03 in August 2023.

  • The Springbok basket increased by R79,71 (1,5%) month-on-month, and increased by R447,72 (9,1%) year-on year, to R5 380,03 in August 2023.

  • The Maritzburg basket decreased by R14,58 (-0,3%) month-on-month, and increased by R259,81 (5,6%) year-on year, to R4 930,14 in August 2023.

  • The Mtubatuba basket increased by R54,51 (1,1%) month-on-month, and increased by R351,80 (7,2%) year-on year, to R5 223,79 in August 2023.

Price concerns

The PMBEJD has warned that poor South Africans may be affected by the upcoming increase in food prices, particularly due to the increase in rice prices.

“Whilst South Africa imports most of its rice from Thailand (76.5%), with Indian imports making up a much lower 19.1%, the India rice ban is starting to impact on rice prices on South African shelves,” the PMBEJD said.

“In almost half of the supermarkets tracked, rice prices increased – some marginally, but some surged.

“The Indian rice ban will likely lead to global rice prices increasing. Rice is a core staple food in most South African homes.”

Although maize meal is the most important startch in South Africa, rice is second and plays an important role in adding variety to meals, which otherwise remain unchanged.

Rice is also better in times of increased load shedding as it requires less electricity and time to cook than maize meal.

“Rice prices in supermarkets will need to be carefully monitored, including ensuring that the India rice ban is not used to raise prices higher than what is reasonable or fair (price gouging), the PMBEJD said.

Read: Red flags for food prices in South Africa

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