Defra traces UK food price story for 2008

By Gavin Kermack and Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags 2007–2008 world food price crisis Food security Food

Defra has published its annual Food Statistics Pocketbook, which traces the precise direction of food prices in the UK over the last 12 months and gives insight into the tough implications for low income households.

The pocketbook, which is produced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) every year, contains information on the food supply chain, food safety, health, and food supply and prices and reveals some interesting statistics about food trends in the UK.

This year’s edition is particularly illuminating given the recognition that food prices have been on the increase, and the implications this has had on business decisions throughout the food chain as operators have sought to protect their bottom lines.

For consumers, too, the issue has had an impact on shopping choices and, for some – even in a developed country like the UK – can make the difference between having enough to eat and going hungry.

The food price curve this year

The pocketbook shows that between 1998 and 2006, food prices declined in real terms by 12 per cent. However, in August 2007 they started to rise again, reaching the level of January 2004 by July 2008.

The first seven months of this year saw the prices of some foods increase substantially; butter, for example, went up in price by 37 per cent. Other staples such as bread and milk underwent increases, with the cost of bread and milk rising by 20 per cent and 19 per cent respectively.

Healthy costs come down?

However, it looks to have become more affordable to eat healthily, at least in relative terms. Although fruit and vegetables, key components of a healthy diet, rose in retail price by 45 per cent and 53 per cent respectively between 1998 and 2007, they actually became relatively cheaper than other products.

A tendency was seen for low income households to buy less fruit and vegetables and more milk, cheese, butter and margarine, and confectionery.

However there have been signs of increased purchase of fruit and vegetables by low income households since 2004, with purchases rising 4.2 per cent in 2005 and another 1.8 per cent in 2006.

The five-a-day fruit and veg campaign swung into action in the UK in 2002. In 2006 people in low income households ate an average of 3.5 portions a day, compared to a 3.9 per cent overall.

Dairy, treat foods and booze

Dairy products such as milk and cheese, which consumers are advised to limit in their diet, rose in retail terms by 70 per cent. Moreover, the retail price of sugar, jam and confectionery rose by 92 per cent – and alcoholic drinks shot up by 105 per cent.

Food security in the UK

Rising food prices have a more severe effect on the slice of the population with the lowest population; although there tends to be more focus on food security in the developing world, big disparities remain between what the well-off can buy to eat in developed countries like the UK, and food that is available for those with the least to spend.

The report says that 98 per cent of the low income population cited ‘not enough money for food’ as their reason for not always having enough food in the house over the last twelve months.

In 2006 food accounted for 10.3 per cent of all household expenditure, whereas in low income households this figure was 15.5 per cent.

Despite this, the report suggests that “food is exerting less pressure on the budget of low income households than in previous years”​.

The average income of these households has risen by 16 per cent since 1998, whereas food prices have on average risen by 9.6 per cent.

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