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Government officials believe food inflation could double in the next few weeks under a worst-case scenario, it has been reported.
Millions of people are facing a cost-of-living winter crisis, with the rising cost of food and energy driving inflation to the highest its been for 40 years.
Food inflation has already leapt to 9.9% in July, rising sharply from 8.3% in the previous month, according to retail experts at Kantar.
But government officials have told PoliticsHome they believe this could double to nearly 20% this autumn, under a worst-case scenario.
The result would be higher food bills in the run-up to Christmas, with shoppers already having faced months of rising prices.
A doubling of food inflation would add £10 to an average £50 food bill this Christmas compared to last Christmas.
According to a report released by retail research firm Kantar last month, the fastest increases in prices have been for products such as dog food, butter and milk while the overall record for grocery inflation is likely to be surpassed “come August”.
Factors behind the increase include a rise in energy and transport costs, while the war in Ukraine will eventually raise food prices even further.
The food inflation projections are difficult to predict with confidence, and the effect of recent extreme weather and Russia’s reduction of gas supplies to Europe is still unknown.
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Jayne Almond, the director of policy at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), told PoliticsHome that food inflation "is set to continue well into 2023" because the industry is yet to feel the effects of the Ukraine war.
The news comes amid wider warnings about inflation and further misery to come.
While the prices of some global commodities, such as oil, have come off their peaks, the gas price is obliterating household budgets.
“It is now plausible inflation could rise to 15% in the first quarter of 2023,” experts at the Resolution Foundation think-tank cautioned on Wednesday.
“While market prices for some core goods – including oil, corn and wheat – have fallen since their peak earlier this year, these prices haven’t yet fed through into consumer costs and remain considerably higher than they were in January.”
Households across Britain have been warned annual energy bills could reach in excess of £3,600 this winter.
Energy consultant Cornwall Insight said a regular gas and electricity bill in England, Wales and Scotland could reach £3,615 in the new year, hundreds of pounds more than previous predictions.
Cornwall Insight’s principal consultant, Craig Lowrey, warned that this level of household energy bills “currently shows little sign of abating into 2024”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “We recognise the impact of rising food prices, as a result of global shocks including the spike in oil and gas prices, and the conflict in Ukraine.
"We are engaging closely with industry to understand potential pressures on our food supply chain, which has shown resilience in coping with unprecedented challenges.”