Before the 2023 Budget presentation on Monday, the cost of some food items in supermarkets had already increased between 2.5 to 44 per cent, placing an even heavier financial burden on customers who are struggling to make ends meet. Consumers now have to brace for further price increases as a result of the hike in fuel prices. And while this has left consumers in a tailspin, one importer/exporter of goods has identified another predicament–a looming food shortage.
CEO of Maharaj Westside Supermarket Kumar Maharaj said last week that the price of dozens of grocery items had increased, and he described it as “the worst” he had seen at his Arima establishment in decades. The businessman described the situation as frightening. “Up to last week and the week before we have seen a lot of price increases. I am almost certain that 50 per cent of the items in the grocery went up,” Maharaj added.
Prices of items have been escalating globally following the COVID-19 pandemic which triggered shortages of products coupled with hefty freight costs as ports around the world were forced to shut down or slow down operations. They have recently started seeing freight charges go down gradually, but food prices have been soaring globally as a result of higher fertiliser costs and record-high fuel prices.
The situation has been further exacerbated by the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine. Maharaj also identified delays in getting raw materials and labour shortages.
Maharaj, who has been in the supermarket business for decades, sells a variety of local and imported brands amounting to 20,000 items.
He identified some items where prices went up.
“One of the best chocolate drinks in the country and the world today went up last Monday by 44 per cent. That is the worst I have seen in my history. It is bad. It is frightening.”
He provided a list of the items which increased in cost recently.
*A case of 12 (300 gram) packets of the chocolate drink which cost $314 has now jumped to $452.
*A bale of 2 kg rice rose from $186 to $210.
*A case of 950 ml mayonnaise increased from $239.50 to $331.25
*A case of 900 grams of laundry detergent went from $229.83 to $321.98
Maharaj said locally manufactured goods also climbed by 31 per cent.
‘Decent people shoplifting’
Maharaj said in some instances importers are receiving expired goods or goods close to their expiration date because of the length of time it takes to get here.
“Suppliers are losing money. That is one of the causes of the increase in price because of the short shelf life.”
The businessman said last Divali an order was placed for ten containers of ghee.
“We got one container the day before Divali. We ordered the same thing for this Divali. We got one container so far. Right now ghee is short.”
He said once demand outstrips supply the price would skyrocket.
As a result of the rising costs, Maharaj said shoplifting has increased from one to seven per cent at his business place.
“I am talking about decent people shoplifting because they have no alternative. We had to hire additional security.”
In the coming days, Maharaj said he intends to restructure his supermarket to the needs of his customers.
“People just cannot afford the exotic items and the high-end products right now. So we are restructuring. By the next month, we will have more than 1,000 items reduced to help citizens soften the impact.”
Suppliers have difficulty obtaining products
Similarly, Xtra Foods marketing manager Daniel Austin said he too observed prices had recently increased.
“Obviously, yes, we would have had price increases. A lot of local suppliers are having problems with regard to acquiring products around the globe which are in short supply. A lot of them are saying because of the shortages of materials they are incurring a lot of price increases across the spectrum.”
Asked if he had received word from manufacturers and suppliers regarding an adjustment in the price of grocery items following Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s fuel hike on Monday, Austin said no.