Putting food on the table has never been a luxury. Yet the recession – along with the last six austerity budgets to hit this country – has forced the average household to slash the amount spent on groceries by almost €500 a year.
In April 2008, about six months before Ireland officially sunk into recession, the average household spent €5,904 a year (almost €114 a week) on groceries. The average household now spends €5,446 a year (almost €105 a week) on groceries, according to the consumer research firm, Kantar Worldpanel.
"Each of the last austerity budgets has dictated cutbacks of one form or another in the household budget," said Dermott Jewell, chief executive of the consumer lobby group, the Consumers' Association of Ireland (CAI). "Consumers have cut back on the amount of money they've spent on food. They have to make their money go further and that will continue for a few years."
To cope with the recession, consumers have traded down to cheaper products and stores, according to Cora Campbell, client executive with Kantar Worldpanel.
This comes as no surprise – after all, the cost of the weekly grocery shop in the main supermarkets has increased by 12 per cent over the last two years, according to a survey published by the CAI last week. The CAI found that price increases for some staples, such as sugar and teabags, is well ahead of the rate of inflation.
Experts warn that more price hikes are on the cards over the next few years.
"In Britain, food inflation has been high over the last couple of years," said Paul Kelly, director of the lobby group, Food and Drink Industry Ireland. "One of the reasons for this high inflation was the weakness of sterling. We're now entering a phase where the euro is weakening. That could put pressure on the price of food imports to Ireland – so you could see the price of packaged and frozen foods here go up."
Food prices could increase by five per cent by the end of this year, according to Alan McQuaid, economist with Merrion Stockbrokers. However, the price increases could be steeper – even into the double digits – if the world economy picks up, warned McQuaid.
So what part of your weekly shop could become even more expensive over the next year?
The days of your Sunday roast might well be numbered – the ever-growing horsemeat controversy could push up the cost of beef, chicken and pork, warned McQuaid.
As you're already paying seven per cent more for beef and veal than you paid this time last year, any further price hikes there will hit you hard.
Even a switch to fish might not shield you from any price increases that arise from the horsemeat controversy.
"Fish prices could rise too on the back of increased consumer demand as consumers switch to a perceived safer and healthier product," said McQuaid.
Another thing which could push up the price of pork and chicken is any surge in the cost of maize.
"Maize, as well as other corn and soya beans, is often used to feed animals," said Kelly. "If the price of maize goes up, the cost of producing meat from pigs and chickens goes up."
TEA AND COFFEE
You might soon have to cut back on the amount of cuppas you down a day.
Despite dramatic falls in the price of coffee and tea on the commodity markets, they're getting ever more expensive to buy in the shops. Alan Gray of Indecon says our favourite beverages could become even more expensive this year.
"In 2012, coffee and tea showed high retail price changes and this may continue this year," he said.
BREAD AND CAKES
Other commodities that make their way to your supermarket shelves include wheat, maize and soya beans.
"Over the last five to six years, there's been an unbelievable level of volatility in commodity prices," said Paul Kelly. "The drought on the Great Plains in the US last summer fed through to cereal prices."
As wheat is an ingredient in many staples, including bread, pasta, biscuits and cakes, any increase in wheat prices will inevitably push up the cost of your sliced pan and treats. Remember, stocking up on a shop's own brand sliced pans – instead of branded bread – could halve your weekly bread bill.
"Depending on how things play out, you could see the price of bread rise by 10c and the same with sugar, but it is very hard to call," said Alan McQuaid.
"A lot will be down to global weather conditions and how successful the crop seasons are."
HERBS AND ORANGES
Next time you get a shock at the supermarket checkout, it could be Mother Nature – rather than any profit-taking by your retailer – that is to blame.
Adverse events, such as tsunamis and earthquakes, will be behind many of the price shocks that crop up over the next few years, according to Stephen Kinsella, economist with the University of Limerick.
"The price of mint or garlic can shoot up if there's an earthquake abroad as it reduces the supply of these herbs and pushes up the price," said Kinsella. "With the global supply food chain, a shock to the supply of oranges in Florida after a flood there will have direct impact on the prices paid for oranges in your local shop. Adverse weather is here to stay – so we'll be having more price shocks."
PUTTING FOOD ON THE TABLE WHAT'S UP? WHAT'S DOWN?
SIX THINGS THAT HAVE GONE UP
THE average price of a 1kg bag of Siucra granulated sugar has increased by almost 40 per cent over the last two years, according to the CAI, while the price of an 80-pack box of Lyons Gold Label tea bags is up almost 17 per cent.
We're paying almost a third more for potatoes than we did this time last year, while the price of veg is up by almost a tenth, according to the Central Statistics Office. Bad weather is largely to blame for this – last summer was one of the wettest summers on record for Ireland and Britain.
If you're more into savoury than sweet food, you will pay 6 per cent more for your crisps today than you did in December 2011.
If you like nothing better than to follow Rachel Allen's footsteps in the kitchen, try to go easy on the cupcakes – the price of flour has increased by 9 per cent over the last year.
SIX THINGS THAT HAVE COME DOWN
If you want to save money on your weekly shop, head to the pizza aisle. The price of pizza and quiche has fallen by more than a tenth over the last year. Frozen fish is also cheaper, down almost 7 per cent over the last year.
If you've a sweet tooth, avoid chocolate and jams as they've gone up – stick to ice-cream and you'll pay about 1 per cent less than you did last year. Or try dried fruit and nuts, which are almost 3 per cent cheaper than this time last year.
If you like your horsemeat, the price of ready-made meals is down about 2.5 per cent over the last year.
While most meat is more expensive now than it was this time last year, you'll save a few bob if you choose lamb and goat – where the price has fallen by about 3 per cent.