Consumers reliant on supermarkets’ budget ranges bore the brunt of food price inflation in the run-up to Christmas, with increases far outstripping those for luxury own-label and premium brands, according to a survey.
The price of budget items rose 20.3% on average in December, compared with the same month a year before, according to research from the consumer group Which?, while supermarkets’ luxury ranges rose 12.6% and the price of branded items went up 12.5%.
Overall food price inflation averaged 13.3% in December, according to the British Retail Consortium’s latest figures.
However, price hikes for grocery staples including butter and spreads, milk and cheese were much bigger, according to the Which? survey – up 29%, 26% and 22% respectively, across all supermarket chains. Bakery items were up 19.5% and savoury pies, pastries and quiches rose 18.5%. Inflation was lowest for chocolate products,with prices up 6.5% on average.
The biggest individual price rise across all supermarket chains tracked by Which? was Quaker Oat So Simple Simply Apple (8x33g) at Asda, which increased 188% from £1 to £2.88 on average between December 2021 and 2022.
Sue Davies, the head of food policy at Which?, said:“Some households are already skipping meals to make ends meet and our findings show trust in supermarkets taking a hit as many people worry they are putting profits before the people suffering during this cost of living crisis.
“Supermarkets must do more, Which? is calling for them to ensure everyone has easy access to basic, affordable food ranges at a store near them, particularly in areas where people are most in need.”
As the cost of living crisis has deepened, shoppers have turned to discounters Aldi and Lidl in a bid to save money.
However, those retailers’ tight profit margins have given them little room for manoeuvre on rising costs, prompting them to put up prices faster than their bigger rivals in percentage terms, according to Which?.
Prices were up 21.1% year-on year at Lidl and 20.8% at Aldi in December, compared with 13.7% at Sainsbury’s, 13.1% at Tesco and 15.4% at Asda.
Aldi and Lidl remain generally cheaper than their bigger rivals on similar products – so in cash terms, the hit to shoppers pockets is not likely to have been as big.
Several supermarket chains challenged the findings of the Which? survey, saying the products it focused on did not give an accurate picture of inflation in their stores.
Which? tracks annual inflation of tens of thousands of food and drink products across three months at eight major supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.
An Aldi spokesperson said: “We are the lowest-priced supermarket in Britain. Our customers will always pay less for their shop with Aldi and that is why Which? has named us as the cheapest supermarket in 2022.”
A Tesco spokesperson said: “With household budgets under increasing pressure we are absolutely committed to helping our customers, by keeping a laser focus on the cost of the weekly shop. Earlier this week, we were pleased to be recognised by The Grocer as the retailer doing the most to keep prices down right now.”
An Asda spokesperson said: “We’re working hard to keep prices in check for customers and remain the lowest-priced major supermarket – a position recognised by Which? in their regular monthly basket comparison.”
Andrew Opie, director of food at the British Retail Consortium, said: “Retailers understand the pressure households are under and are doing everything they can to limit price rises on their products. Unfortunately, the war in Ukraine has pushed up the cost of many items including wheat, fertiliser, and animal feed, as well as global energy prices, leading to higher prices for man staples.”
• The headline of this article was amended on 23 January 2023 to clarify that the 20.3% increase is from December 2021 to December 2022. An earlier version simply said that the rise was “in December”.