Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Low-income consumers still paying more for food – household food basket

Despite the inflation rate decreasing for three months in a row, low-income consumers are still struggling with food basket prices.

Low-income consumers are still paying more for food, with the household food basket in the January 2024 Household Affordability Index costing R86.66 more than it did in December at R5 324.86 and R407.44 more than in January last year.

The household food basket survey is conducted for the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group by women who live in low-income communities where they shop for food at 47 supermarkets and 32 butcheries in Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg, Mtubatuba in northern KwaZulu-Natal and Springbok in the Northern Cape.

While paying R86.66 more for the food basket does not sound like much for middle and higher income consumers, for low-income consumers it means that they have to go without some of the core foods on their list, such as 5 kgs of samp at R63.14 or six loaves of brown bread at about R15 each. These items make a big difference for low-income families to keep hunger at bay.

Despite inflation decreasing in December to 5.1% and food inflation to 8.5%, while inflation softened for bread and cereals, oils and fats, sugar, sweets and desserts, vegetables and hot beverages, low-income consumers had to fork out more for various foods that cost more than it did in December.

ALSO READ: Inflation lower in December and lower for 2023 than in 2022

This is how much food basket prices increased

Foods that cost more than 5% more in January compared to December are rice (5%), white sugar (5%), potatoes (13%), curry powder (6%), stock cubes (5%), soup (7%), beef (5%), tomatoes (14%), carrots (7%), spinach (6%) and green pepper (6%).

Other foods that cost 2% to 4.9% more are maize meal (4%), sugar beans (4%), samp (2%), salt (2%), frozen chicken portions (2%), chicken feet (3%), cabbage (2%), tinned pilchards (2%), bananas (4%), apples (3%), margarine (4%), peanut butter (3%) and polony (3%).

In January, the price of the food baskets increased in all areas tracked:

  • The Johannesburg basket cost R13.68 more than in December and R488.49 more than in January 2023.
  • The Durban basket cost R149.17 more than in December and R387.39 more than in January 2023.
  • The Cape Town basket cost R84.44 more than in December and R268.75 more than in January 2023.
  • The Pietermaritzburg basket cost R203.74 more than in December and R387.79 more than in January 2023.
  • The Mtubatuba basket cost R191.36 more in December and R255.76 more than in January 2023.
  • The Springbok basket cost R22.82 more than in December and R843.42 more than in January 2023.

ALSO READ: Slight drop in food basket price, but no relief for low-income consumers

Food basket prices compared to the National Minimum Wage

Considering that low-income consumers who work earn the National Minimum Wage of R25.42 an hour or R203.36 for an 8-hour day, it is clear that they are unable to afford all the food in the food basket for a family of four.

In January 2024, with 22 working days, the maximum National Minimum Wage for a general worker was R4 473.92. Dispersed in a worker’s family of four people, the wage is reduced to R1 118.48 per person, well below the upper-bound poverty line of R1 558 per person per month, while the January cost of a basic nutritional food basket for a family of four was R3 741.46.

This means less nutritionally rich foods, which are essential for health and well-being and strong immune systems, in the basket. These foods include meat, eggs and dairy, which are critical for protein, iron and calcium, as well as vegetables and fruit which are critical for vitamins, minerals and fibre.

Maas, peanut butter and pilchards, which contain the good fats, protein and calcium essential for children to grow, are also part of the nutritional basket.

ALSO READ: South Africans struggle as household food basket costs surge by R141.82 in one month

Very little money left for food after electricity and transport

Using Pietermaritzburg-based figures for electricity and transport, the group calculates that electricity and transport take up 59.6% of a worker’s wage (R2 666.92 of R4 473.92. They only buy food after paying for transport and electricity, leaving only R1 807.00 for food and everything else.

Therefore, the group calculates that workers’ families will underspend on food by a minimum of 51.7% with R1 807 left after transport and electricity and with food costing R3 741.46. In this scenario there it is impossible for a worker to afford enough nutritious food for her family.

If the entire R1 807 all went to buy food, there will be R451.75 per person per month, again far below the food poverty line of R760.

In January 2024, the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet was R953.75, an increase of R14.02 compared to December and R100.72 more than a year ago. Compare this to the Child Support Grant of R510 that is 33% below the Food Poverty Line of R760 and 47% below the average cost to feed a child a basic nutritious diet and it becomes clear why so many children go hungry in South Africa.

ALSO READ: R569 000 Inkwazi feast could feed 610 children for a month

January child grant used for school expenses, not food basket

The women who do the survey say in January they also have to use the grant to buy shoes, uniforms and stationery for school children. They say in January the grocery shops are almost empty, but the school clothing shops are full of mothers.

More women are part of stokvels who bulk-buy the core staple foods in December to ensure there is still core staple foods in the house in January. Food stokvels are one of the strategies women use to assist them to free up money to cover the festive season’s higher grocery purchases and the extra-ordinary school expenses in January.

The group says the savings that go into the stokvels does not come from surplus money during the year, but by women cutting back on their own nutritional needs and other critical expenses. However, not all women are able to save money into stokvels and, therefore, with the grant money all going to secure uniforms, shoes and stationery will mean that families will eat very poorly in January.

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits