Fruit and vegetable shortages push UK food inflation to record high

Shortages of fruit and vegetables helped push UK food inflation to a record high in March, according to the latest industry data, suggesting there was little sign of any let up on households struggling with the cost of living crisis.

Annual food inflation reached 15 per cent, up from 14.5 per cent in February and the highest since records began in 2005, the British Retail Consortium said on Tuesday. The biggest price rises affected fresh foods, with inflation up 0.7 points to 17 per cent.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said “poor harvests in Europe and north Africa worsened availability” of fruit and vegetables and the weakness of sterling further pushed up the cost of imports.

Prices of fruit and vegetables grown out of seasons in greenhouses in the UK and other northern European countries were also affected by high energy costs.

Dickinson added that the rising cost of sugar had also fed through into higher prices for chocolate and other sweets as the Easter holidays approached. Food inflation hits the poorest households the hardest as grocery shopping accounts for a larger proportion of their spending.

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business Insight at NielsenIQ, which helps compile the data, said the inflationary pressures had forced customers to change their habits. Retailers had seen “more visits but less basket spend, as shoppers manage their weekly food bills by shopping little and more often and seeking out the lowest prices.”

The BRC data suggests that price growth of food and non-alcoholic beverages has continued to accelerate this month. In February, official food inflation hit a 45-year high of 18.2 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics data released last week.

Overall, the official data showed inflation rose unexpectedly month-on-month in February to 10.4 per cent from 10.1 per cent. The Bank of England, which has a 2 per cent inflation target, subsequently raised rates by another quarter point to 4.25 per cent in an effort to curb pricing pressures.

Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets, at Hargreaves Lansdown, a financial services company, said the cost of living crisis was “showing little sign of dying down.”

The fast growth of food prices pushed BRC shop price inflation to a new record high of 8.9 per cent in March, up from 8.4 per cent the previous month. Non-food shop inflation rose a more modest 5.9 per cent, contained by discounts on home entertainment equipment and other electrical appliances.

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