Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Basic food basket prices still increasing, hurting the poor

The latest food basket prices hold bad news for the poor ahead of further electricity tariff and public transport price increases.

The latest food basket data shows food prices are still increasing and it is hurting poor people who already have to fork out more money for transport and electricity, further affecting their ability to buy nutritious food for their families.

According to the March 2023 Household Affordability Index of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, which tracks food price data from 44 supermarkets and 30 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg and Springbok the average cost of the household food basket was R4 966.20, which was R37.87 (0,8%) more than the R4 928.34 in February.

The prices are tracked directly by women data collectors off the shelves of supermarkets and butcheries that target the low-income market, where they shop in the areas where they live. They select food as they would for themselves, based on affordability constraints and food brands that are switched to seek out the cheapest prices and special deals.

The average cost of the basket also increased by R516.12 (11.6%) from the R4 450.09 recorded in March 2022. The basket includes the foods and volumes women from a family of seven members usually buy each month.

ALSO READ: Unjustified price increases for essential food worries Competition Commission

The prices of these food items increased by more than 5%

Food items that cost more than 5% more in March include potatoes (10 kg) that cost R7.56 (8%) more than in February, tomatoes (6 kg) that cost R7.10 (6%) more and carrots (5 kg) that cost R8.53 (23%) more.

Items that cost more than 2% more include frozen chicken pieces (2%), tea (3%), full cream milk (3%), maas (3%), eggs (3%), wors (2%), cabbage (3%), tinned pilchards (3%), canned beans (3%), bananas (3%), white bread (2%) and brown bread (2%).

The food baskets cost a little less in Durban (-2.0%) and Cape Town (-0.3%), while the baskets cost more in Johannesburg (2.0%), Springbok (7,4%) and Pietermaritzburg (3.0%).

Although this sounds like small increases, an increase of R96.80 (2.0%) in March compared to February is a sizeable amount for people who have very little money for food.

Over the past year, big increases were noted for maize meal (26%), cake flour (20%), samp (24%), cooking oil (16%), potatoes (52%), onions (67%) and white and brown bread (17%).

ALSO READ: Surge in inflation: Food prices hit highest levels since 2009

Increase in national minimum wage did not help

Although the national minimum wage increased on 1 March, it is still not enough to afford a proper plate of food.

General workers got an increase of 9,6% that means an extra R2.23 per hour, R17.84 for an 8-hour day and R392.48 for a full working-day month of an average 22 days.

In March, with 22-working days, the maximum wage for a general worker was R4 473.92. Dispersed in a worker’s family of 4 people, the amount is reduced to R1 118.48 each, below the upper-bound poverty line of R1 417 per person per month. In March, a basic nutritional food basket for a family of four cost R3 430.75.

According to the calculations of the group, using Pietermaritzburg-based figures for electricity and transport and the average figure for a minimum nutritional basket of food for a family of four, electricity and transport took up 53% (R2 371.50) of a worker’s wage of R4 473.92.

These people only buy food after paying for transport and electricity, leaving only R2 102.42 for food and everything else. This means, according to the group’s calculations, that workers’ families will underspend on food by a minimum of 38.7%.

ALSO READ: Unjustified price increases for essential food worries Competition Commission

Nutritious food is simply unaffordable

The group says in this case workers simply cannot afford enough nutritious food for their families. If the entire R2 102.42 is used to buy food for a family of 4 people, it comes to R525.60 per person, far below the food poverty line of R663.

When the new electricity tariffs of 18.65% comes into effect in June/July 2023 and after taxi fares increase in August, workers will have to allocate a lot more money to electricity and transport, leaving even less money for food and all other essential expenses.

When this happens, families will face dramatic food shortfalls and hardship, the group says.

The average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R874.71 in March, an increase of R10.65 or 1.2% compared to February and R86.72 or 11.0% more than a year ago.

In March, the child support grant of R480 was 28% below the food poverty line of R663 and 45% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet.