Since the start of the lockdown, the provincial government, led by Economic Development, Tourism and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, has been clamping down on food price hikes.     Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)
Since the start of the lockdown, the provincial government, led by Economic Development, Tourism and Traditional Affairs MEC Nomusa Dube-Ncube, has been clamping down on food price hikes. Doctor Ngcobo African News Agency (ANA)

Supermarkets hiked food by 10% ahead of lockdown regulations

By Lyse Comins Time of article published Apr 2, 2020

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Durban - A slew of supermarkets hiked food prices by as much as 10% ahead of the gazetting of pricing regulations under the Disaster Management Act related to Covid-19, a survey by a local non-governmental organisation revealed this week.

Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity (PEJD) programme co-ordinator, Mervyn Abrahams, said the survey noted a price spike of 7% on a basic basket of groceries in early March, while a shift in buying patterns saw poor consumers spending more on soap and household detergents to comply with the Covid-19 sanitisation health message.

The survey was conducted at Pietermaritzburg supermarkets only.

Abrahams said the shift in buying patterns would have a detrimental affect on nutrition as households were now spending less on healthy fresh produce and protein, which would have a direct impact on their immune systems.

PEJD publishes a monthly food and detergent price survey based on data collected at retailers frequented by poor consumers in the Pietermaritzburg area.

“On March 2, we collected the monthly food price data. The cost of the household food basket was R3221 and had increased by 3.6% or R112.23 year-on-year.

“With the unfolding Covid-19 outbreak, just over two weeks later, on March 19, we collected food prices again and the cost of the household basket had spiked by 3.1%, or R99.35, to R3320.35,” Abrahams said.

He said a week later, on March 26, when food prices were collected the data showed a 0.2% or R7.91 price increase to R3328.26 for a basket of goods.

Items that increased for the first period, across at least four supermarkets, included white bread (10%) from R9.93 to R10.95; brown bread, which spiked from R8.97 to R9.85; sugar beans (3%) and samp (7%).

Eggs decreased in price by 9% during March.

“An average increase of 7% on the Household Food Index from March 2019 up to the end of March 2020 is significant. It is unclear at this stage whether this will come down in the coming weeks.

“For now, this is a heavy increase on the monthly food basket of households living on low incomes.

“It’s especially worrying in the face of a pandemic, in a context where many South Africans have compromised immune systems and where millions of households will see a decrease in their monthly income,” Abrahams said.

He said the data appeared to show that price spikes had been arrested by the introduction of the Department of Trade and Industry Regulations for Consumer and Customer Protection for the period of the Covid-19 outbreak, gazetted on March 19.

Abrahams said it seemed that the regulations and swift moves by the Competition Commission and National Consumer Commission to take action had been in direct response to the hikes that were taking hold.

“Our data shows a similar pattern for household domestic and personal hygiene products. Our sense is that supermarkets in Pietermaritzburg are complying and will act in good faith but we should still be vigilant,” he said.

Abrahams said a worrying trend was that consumers were spending more on soap and detergents.

According to the food price report:

“Women are buying more core staple foods such as maize meal, rice and sugar beans. Women are buying more eggs as a substitute for meat.

“Women are buying more tinned foods - pilchards and baked beans - just in case. More soap is being bought to wash hands more often and more Jik is being bought as a sanitiser to clean surfaces.”

Abrahams said it was a concern that women were spending less on meat, vegetables and dairy products, resulting in a less nutritious diet.

He called on the government, business, civil society and religious organisations to intervene to assist the poor by paying staff from the UIF fund and also by distributing basic food parcels.

MEC for Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, Nomusa Dube-Ncube, said she was meeting with the Durban Chamber of Commerce and Industry, big business and informal hawkers to introduce measures to grow the economy.

“We want to see retailers, especially those who have been found to be violating the National Disaster Management Act and Consumer Protection Act, showing a change of attitude by giving back to the community.

“They can help alleviate poverty and contribute to ensure we have a healthy society, which can only be created through access to food and medication.

“Consequently, if we have a healthy society, we will be able to have healthy workers who can contribute to building the economy,” Dube-Ncube said.

The Mercury

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