Supermarkets under fire in growing row over soaring cost of food for millions of shoppers

·5-min read
Supermarkets have been accused of ramping up the cost of food including apples but not paying significantly more to producers  (@alandsmann/Pixabay)
Supermarkets have been accused of ramping up the cost of food including apples but not paying significantly more to producers (@alandsmann/Pixabay)

Supermarkets came under fire on Tuesday in a growing war of words over the soaring cost of food for millions of shoppers.

They were accused of hiking up prices by up to 46 per cent for some fruit while producers were hardly seeing what they get paid go up.

The claim came from Ali Capper, chair of the National Farmers’ Union’s horticultural board and of English Apples and Pears.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Growers are facing 23 per cent increase in their costs to produce apples. They had an average of 0.8 per cent back from the markets, so the price that they get from supermarkets.

“There is something fundamentally wrong. It’s not fair that the shopper is being charged 27, 25 per cent, 46 per cent more for apples and yet that increase in price is not coming back down to the growers.”

Her comments came after Tesco chairman John Allan claimed earlier this year that some food suppliers may be using inflation as an excuse to bump up prices further than necessary, though, he did not name any particular sector.

Millions of shoppers are having to make cutbacks as food inflation has been running at nearly 20 per cent as the cost-of-living crisis bites deeper.

Pressed that supermarkets were also under pressure, Ms Capper stressed: “They are all still making a profit. The growers that I represent are not. They are all losing money, they are having to take out orchards, they can’t afford to replant them, some of the businesses are actually going under.”

She added: “We should be producing British food for British shoppers rather than importing food that we are very capable of producing here.

“We have got the perfect climate to produce apples in this country.

“It is mad that we would rather import them than pay a fair price to British growers.”

She called for an investigation into the relationship between growers, supermarkets and shoppers.

Responding to her warning, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: "This is yet more evidence that big supermarkets are hiking prices while people struggle to put food on the table.

"We need an official inquiry now into potential profiteering by supermarkets and food manufacturers."

Supermarkets deny that they are profiteering at the expense of shoppers during the cost-of-living crisis.

Meanwhile, Sainsbury's has cut the price of some of its lines of bread and butter in response to falling commodity prices.

The UK's second-biggest supermarket chain has lowered the price of its own-brand 250g salted and unsalted butter by five per cent to £1.89.

It is also cutting the price of its 800g Soft White Medium, Wholemeal Medium, Wholemeal Thick and Toastie White loaves of bread by 11 per cent to 75p.

The grocer said it was able to lower some prices due to commodity prices for wheat and butter beginning to fall.

Rhian Bartlett, food commercial director at Sainsbury's, said: "We have been battling hard to beat inflation and whenever we are paying less for the products we buy from our suppliers, we will pass those savings on to customers.

"As we see the commodity prices starting to fall for wheat and butter, we're able to lower our prices on two of the products people buy most often, bread and butter.”

Ms Capper, whose farm on the Herefordshire/Worcestershire border produces apples and hops, also emphasised that one of the problems was that many such firms were still family busineses so could not negotiate on scale with supermarkets.

She also stressed that the sector needed more help from the Government to deal with energy costs.

High inflation continued to support retailers in April but soaring prices meant shoppers bought fewer products during the month, according to new figures.

The latest BRC-KPMG monthly retail sales monitor reported that retail sales grew 5.1 per cent in April, compared with a 0.3 per cent decline in the same month last year.

However, the industry experts highlighted that although customers spent more, the volume of items bought by shoppers was lower as inflation continues to weigh on budgets.

The Office for National Statistics said UK inflation hit 10.1 per cent in March, amid record food and drink inflation at 19.1 per cent.

The new data showed that retailers said food sales increased by 9.8% over the three months to April, driven by jumps in price, with sales volumes actually lower for the period.

Meanwhile, non-food stores saw a 1.2 per cent sales increase over the three-month period to April, amid pressure on fashion retailers.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: "While retail sales grew in April, overall inflation meant volumes were down for both food and non-food as customers continued to adjust spending habits.

"Clothing sales underperformed as the poor weather left customers thinking twice before decking out their summer wardrobe.

"Meanwhile, a boost to overseas tourism over Easter helped jewellery, watches and cosmetics."

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, said: "Consumer demand has so far been fairly resilient to the twin drags of high inflation and high interest rates, but as government energy support comes to an end for many, savings start to dwindle and other household bills rise, it is likely that the next few months will continue to be challenging as the consumer tank empties.

"Much hinges on whether soaring food inflation can be brought under control enough to allow consumers to comfortably start spending again on non-essential items."