Unless you’re a Rupert, Zuma, Gupta or a member of any other high-net-worth family in the country, it’s likely your monthly grocery expenditure has gone up by at least 10% compared to a year ago.
Perhaps most heartbreaking about the astronomical food price increases that South African consumers are currently experiencing is the fact that it’s the cost of unavoidable, everyday basic staples like fresh produce that are hitting consumers the hardest.
Short of no longer purchasing grocery items like fruit, vegetables, meat and eggs, there’s no way to avoid the hair-raising impact of rising consumer price inflation (CPI), the country’s devastating drought and its weak currency exchange rate.
The latest food basket survey released by the Markets and Economic Research Centre (Merc) last month found that food prices rose on average by 8,7% between December 2014 and December 2015, officially exceeding CPI, which Statistics SA reported earlier this month rose to 7% year-on-year for February – the highest level since May 2009 and up from 6,2% in January.
To add insult to injury, the South African Reserve Bank has forecast that food price inflation will hit 11% by the fourth quarter of the year.
During the period Merc reviewed food prices, the price of vegetables rose by 11,2%, bread and cereals by 9,5%, dairy and eggs by 8,6%, while the cost of fats and oils increased by 15,8%, and tea and coffee by 5,3%.
READ MORE: Food prices continue to soar amid drought
In an interview with The Witness, Agri SA economist Thabi Nkosi warned consumers to expect further food price increases for at least the next year, as the countrywide drought and inflation indicators show no signs of easing.
“The scarcity of fresh produce causes the prices to rise,” she was quoted as saying .”It’s likely to hurt consumers’ pockets until at least the same time next year.
“The rain we received recently is good, but isn’t consistent or enough for every province to recover. Prices should peak in June and stay at those levels until farmers recover financially.”
Smokers and alcohol consumers are also coming under severe pressure, with the average cost of a six-pack of beer or cider currently retailing at between R60 and R80.
According to Stats SA data, the price of alcoholic beverages and tobacco rose by 7,6% year-on-year in February, following an 8,3% price hike in January.
More disturbing is that these increases preceded the pending sin tax hike set to come into effect from April.
READ MORE: Food prices on the rise again
Among the several consumers DESTINY and DESTINY MAN spoke to, the most common eyebrow-raising increase was the price of potatoes, which has more than doubled since last year.
According to Grain SA, the price of white maize rose by over 150% year-on-year by the end of 2015, while the price of yellow maize has increased by more than 80%, causing a ripple effect on the price of poultry and livestock.
A recent survey by the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action (Pacsa) found that in the three months leading up to and including January, the price of a 10kg pocket of potatoes had skyrocketed by 109,5%, while a pocket of onions cost an extra 65,4% and the price of two heads of cabbage rose by 78,8%.
Ellen Batshegi, a mother of three, says she’s spending between R1 000 and R1 500 extra a month for groceries compared to this time last year.
She no longer buys potatoes, the price of which she describes as “out of this world”. Instead, she grabs a packet or two’s worth from her mother’s pocket.
“I can’t bring myself to buy potatoes anymore,” she says. “In December, I bought them on special for R30 a pocket, then in January they were on special for R60 and I decided then that I won’t buy them until they come down again. I haven’t bought potatoes with my own money since December.”
Candice Pretorius says her grocery budget has increased from between R1 000 and R1 200 a month for two people last year to between R1 500 and R2 000 just for herself this year.
Pretorius says she now buys only loose potatoes to save a bit of cash.
“I’ve also noticed that the price of fresh fruit, like a small punnet of grapes, goes for R30 or so; two avos cost R50; a bottle of hair shampoo or conditioner costs about R60; and cleaning detergents have become expensive,” she says.
To combat the rise in her grocery budget, she now buys meat in bulk so that she can purchase meat only every second month. And she’s cut out luxury items such as fresh fruit juice, cream cheese and cold meats.
Sindi Khoza is contemplating starting a vegetable patch in her garden after she noticed how the price of cabbage rose from R6,99 last year to R15.
Khoza and Batshegi both take the time to compare weekly specials that retailers offer, and make a point of jotting down where they can find the best prices for groceries.
“It involves a bit of admin, but it helps you save a lot of money in the long run,” says Khoza.