Food prices in South Africa are much higher than last year – here’s what you’re paying more for

The latest Household Affordability Index by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity group (PMBEJD) shows that while food prices have dropped slightly in June, baskets are way higher than they were last year – outpacing inflation by some margin.

The civil society initiative found that its household food basket saw a marginal drop in price month-on-month – but remains at much higher levels than September 2020, when the basket was first compiled.

The basket was tracked at R8.88 (0.2%) cheaper than a month ago (April) at R4,128.23. However, over the past 10 months, the cost of the average basket price increased by 7.1% or R271.90. Inflation over the same period was much lower, tracking between 3% and 5%.

The basket comprises 44 core food items most frequently purchased by lower-income households who make up the majority of households in the country.

Over the last month maize meal, rice and flour have come down in price. All fruits and vegetables except potatoes and onions have also come down, with the group noting that potatoes and onions are typically sourced in the Free State during the winter months.

On the other side, all meat prices have gone up – a typical trend during the winter months where feed costs and energy costs increase. Cooking oil, sugar, sugar beans and margarine have also seen prices climb, while polony has shown a significant spike, the PMBEJD said.

Of the 44 food items tracked by the group 18 increased in price, and 19 dropped in price month-on-month. With prices remaining relatively flat between May and June, only three items saw a shift in price, one way or the other, above 10%.

May 2021 – June 2021 big changes:

  • Tomatoes: -15%
  • Spinach: -11%
  • Polony: +15%

The table below outlines the price changes between May and June 2021.

Over the last 10 months, however, the picture is very different, with some items increasing by as much as 44%, and others dropping by as much as 38%.

September 2020 – June 2021 big price increases:

  • Sugar beans: +44%
  • Gizzards: +35%
  • Tomatoes: +32%
  • Cooking oil: +30%
  • Margarine: +16%
  • Beef liver: +15%
  • Beef: +14%
  • Maize meal: +14%
  • Fish: +13%
  • Carrots: +13%
  • Wors: +10%
  • Samp: +10%

September 2020 – June 2021 big price drops:

  • Oranges: -38%
  • Green pepper: -10%

The table below outlines the price changes between September 2020 and June 2021.

Crisis in the making

Regionally, food baskets in all areas except the Joburg came down very marginally in June, bringing no real relief to struggling households, the PMBEJD said.

“Statistics South Africa’s Consumer Price Index for Food and Non-alcoholic Beverages rose to 6.7% in May 2021. Headline inflation for this same period is 5.2%.

“The value of the money we have in our pockets is being eroded by higher levels of inflation on basic goods and services. High inflation levels on food are especially harmful to households living on low incomes as families spend a much higher proportion of their income on food,” it said.

This is being exacerbated by high levels of unemployment – meaning what little money there is, must now be stretched even further in households – as well as the government’s lack of support for those without work, or those who are on grants.

The group warned that the government is setting the foundation for widespread civil unrest if it does not intervene on rising prices and provide support for those affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“High food prices and no jobs could lead to social disorder and social instability. Throughout history, this has been the case. At some point, the restrained protesting will become more violent, and the movement of goods and services on our public highways and roads will be curbed, and private property and state security will be threatened,” it said.

“The state has taken away all income support, and wages have not gone up. Unemployment levels remain untenably high, jobs continue to be lost and food prices have gone up. At the very
the least government should reinstate the support that was given in the first and second waves: bring back the top-ups to the grants and the Covid Special Relief Grant.”

Government data

While not quite comparing year-on-year data, the PMBEJD’s numbers generally align with recent CPI data published by Stats SA, which found that food price inflation was tracking higher than core inflation of 5.2% in May.

Some of the largest annual price increases (May 2020 vs May 2021) were recorded for the following items:

  • Sunflower oil: +30.3%
  • Tomatoes: +29.4%
  • Dried beans : +27.0%
  • Salad dressing: +18.4%
  • Beef offal: +17.6%
  • Sweet potatoes : +16.9%
  • Chocolate bars: +16.5%
  • Stewing beef: +15.4%
  • Mixed vegetables (tinned): +14.9%
  • Hot cereals (porridge): +14.8%
  • Flavoured milk: +14.0%
  • Whiteners: +13.4%
  • White wine: +13.2%
  • Fruit juice: +12.8%
  • Beetroot: +12.6%
  • Instant yeast: +12.6%
  • Soup powder: +12.4%
  • Powdered milk: +12.3%
  • Whole chicken: +12.2%
  • White sugar: +11.5%

The data shows that annual food & non-alcoholic beverages inflation accelerated to 6.7% in May from 6.3% in April.

Annual meat inflation has stubbornly remained above 6,0% since October 2020, climbing to 8.5% in May. Prices for fish products increased at a brisk 7%, slightly lower than April’s 8.1%.

Cooking (sunflower) oil prices continue to surge, increasing by 30.3% from May 2020 and by 8,5% from April 2021.

Read: 20 things that have become more expensive in South Africa in 2021

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Food prices in South Africa are much higher than last year – here’s what you’re paying more for