Editorial: Tougher action needed to tackle grocery gouging

Shoppers are under increasing strain as basic food product prices are not coming down. Photo: Getty Images© Getty Images


Shortly before the meeting of retailers and supermarkets with junior enterprise minister Neale Richmond, two of the country’s leading stores announced cuts in the price of a sliced pan.

It would be easy to infer, when it comes to the Government getting tough, that the stores know which side their bread is buttered on.

However, customers reeling from punitive prices that have hardly budged since energy costs went through the roof following the invasion of Ukraine deserve better.

The opposition is rightly turning up the heat on the coalition to do more to bring down grocery costs. Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald has accused ministers of showing no urgency to make retailers cut costs immediately. Food costs are crippling families, she said.

This is certainly not the time for a softly, softly approach. Fuel costs have come back down, but consumers are not seeing this reflected in their shopping trolleys.

Enterprise Minister Simon Coveney said the coalition is “not happy” about the increasing cost of food, and he expects to see reductions in prices as inflation falls.

Tánaiste Micheál Martin has also said the Government will be seeking far greater transparency from retailers and putting pressure on them to reduce prices. A wait-and-see approach will not suffice. Shoppers do not have the luxury of sitting back until it is opportune for the multiples to make up their minds.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) has urged the Government not to introduce price controls.

It says they tend to have unintended consequences and have not been effective in other EU countries.

Capping some prices can result in others being increased. But if, as Mr Coveney has said, the Government is not happy that the sector is doing enough to tackle the exorbitant cost of food, it plainly has a duty to do something about it. The meeting with retailers was called in a context where grocery price inflation is much higher than the general inflation rate.

This now runs at around 6pc and is likely to fall even further, whereas figures from the Central Statistics Office show food inflation is close to 13pc – and beyond 16.6pc, according to consultants Kantar.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said prices are coming down, but not by enough.

Instead of meekly asking major retailers to respond, it is up to the Government to make it patently clear it is prepared to act.

If there is any evidence that “greedflation” has taken hold, it must be dealt with.

There is talk of naming and shaming retailers putting the squeeze on shoppers, but as the old saying goes, “names can never hurt”.

If costs do not come down, the Government has a clear responsibility to make sure it is the supermarkets and not the shoppers who are made to pay the price.