Cape Town - A Hanover Park mother of two said increasing food prices have forced her to scratch some items off her grocery list and limit herself to buying essential foods only.
Wendy Augustos, 43, a factory machinist, lives with her husband and two teenage boys, Zain and Ziano, aged 19 and 15.
Between herself and her husband, Zack, the couple set aside at least R1 600 every week for groceries and other necessities.
Last year the couple were accustomed to buying groceries weekly, but because of food price increases throughout the year, they now only shop every fortnight.
Wendy said: “I fill my trolley with products, only to leave the shop with half the items because I can’t pay for them.”
She said her family’s grocery list includes basic foods such as milk, meat, spaghetti, rice, bread, butter, oil, toiletries and cleaning products.
Since the start of the year, Wendy found the luxuries she used to add to the list, such as chocolates, chips, baking products and cold drinks, don’t make it past the checkout.
“Everything has gone up. I had to cut down on clothing, which I was accustomed to buying monthly, but now I only buy clothes when I can afford to, which is not often.”
In Wendy’s food basket, coffee has gone up by about R6, oil by more than R4 and frozen chicken portions by R7.50.
Wendy said she no longer bought fish because it was too expensive. She also seldom bought beef and mince because of the high cost.
“You get four pieces of chops for about R70, which is expensive and too little to prepare for supper. We all expect two pieces per serving; so wie gat iet en wie gat kyk (who is going to eat and who is going to watch)?” she said.
Her sons eat white bread, she and her husband enjoy brown bread.
A loaf of white bread costs R12, brown bread R11.50. To cut costs, the family now buys only one loaf of white bread instead of white and brown.
Wendy said she stopped buying corn flakes and buys only breakfast wheatbiscuits.
The oats she used to buy for her anaemia have been scratched off the list, but she continues to worry about her husband’s hypertension diet.
“Oats, 750g, is R35, plus I eat mine with yoghurt. I often take it off the shop shelf, but leave it at the till.”
She buys her vegetables when on sale at Food Lover’s Market.
“I wait until they have that combo with onions, potatoes, butternuts and whatever extra veggie.
“Potatoes, the 7kg, used to cost R30, but now the price has doubled, so I aim for the combo and pay R120.”
Wendy said she was preparing for December by buying food stamps.
“It’s the only way I can save.
“If the money is in the bank, then it’s as good as gone because problems always find a way to seep through,” she said.
The National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC), which monitors food prices at retail level, said it was “scary” that the poor are already spending 53 percent of their disposable income on food.
Consumers can expect to pay more for food this year because inflation is now at its highest level in almost seven years.
Consumers are spending double on some foods such as potatoes, compared with last year.
A food basket of 22 items determined by the Food Price Monitoring Committee in 2003, increased by about R44 between January 2015 and January 2016.
Vegetables now cost 21 percent more than they did a year ago, while fruit costs 13.2 percent more than last year.
The national average for a 10kg pocket of medium potatoes jumped to R63.30 two weeks ago, from last year’s average of R28.45.
But the worst of it is yet to come.
Agricultural organisations and economists say the drought and weak rand mean South Africans will increasingly be paying more for food as the year continues.
Vegetables, red meat and chicken are expected to become even more expensive after the winter months.
Vegetables (7.1 percent), bread and cereals (3.4 percent) and sugar and sweets (3.4 percent) increased by the highest margins between January and February, Stats SA said on Wednesday.
Much of the 7 percent consumer price inflation (CPI) reached last month can be attributed to a food price increase of 8.6 percent year-on-year.
CPI is now at its highest level since May 2009, when the rate was 8 percent.
NAMC food economist Christo Joubert said although food prices had increased more slowly than predicted over this period, the next few months would get tougher.
The price increases witnessed so far, were in line with what could be expected in a drought year, he said.
“There’s a huge supply now due to the drought, but we are going to pay for that in future,” he said.
“The prospects don’t look very good for the rest of the year.”
But the poor rand-dollar exchange rate was also driving up food prices.
Farmers were choosing to export their livestock rather than sell locally.
Meeting with the agricultural sector in Joburg on Wednesday, Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana said he was concerned about the food price increases.
“It’s going to expose the poor and those who can’t afford food,” he said.
Joubert predicted a switch in consumer trends, as the poor looked for cheaper alternatives to high-cost foods.
It also remained to be seen how consumers would respond to yellow maize which farmers had begun milling to ease the pressure on white maize production.
“Consumers are starting to buy in smaller quantities.
“If you only have so much money what else can you do?
“The situation is not very good for poor consumers,” said Joubert.
Chairman of the Western Cape Red Meat Producers’ Organisation, John Durr, said the price of red meat had remained at last year’s prices because of a rapid price increase in January which had since been retracted after market resistance.
The price of pork was now at lower levels than last year, and Durr said there had been a noticeable shift towards more pork purchases.
Durr said 30-40 percent of feedlot farmers were choosing to export their beef to recover costs.
‘’When winter comes, there won’t be enough rain and enough feed. Come August and September, there will be less beef to sell to the consumer.”
Economists also predicted an increase in the price of meat.
Said Investec economist Kamilla Kaplan: “For now, the drought has suppressed livestock prices, but going forward, the next four to five months, we can expect further food price increases.”
Added MMI Holdings economist, Sanisha Pakirisamy: “Though meat price increases remained contained below 6 percent, higher feed costs and herd-rebuilding following increased slaughtering during the drought, are likely to lead to higher meat inflation down the line, keeping food inflation elevated this year.”
Kaplan said South African consumers will continue to feel the pinch in their wallets – not only from rising food prices, but double-digit, above inflation increases in water and electricity coupled with higher fuel prices.
“With inflation, the interest rate and the weak rand, consumers are really going to be under pressure this year.”
Investec has predicted a further 50 basis points increase in the repo rate in July, followed by a further 25 basis points increase in September.