For much of the past year and a half, the sharp increase in grocery and supermarket prices has had a crushing impact on many shoppers.
Most people have noted that their grocery bills have increased, despite adjustments to spending habits or item selection.
According to the latest Central Statistical Office, the average price of food and non-alcoholic beverages increased by 11.2 per cent between April 2022 and April 2023.
To properly assess the impact of inflation, the Business Guardian, set out to establish just how significant the increases have been and which items, in particular, have changed the dynamic of the average grocery list.
In August 2020, during the pandemic, a large local chain of supermarkets introduced a bargain bag that included what was considered to be essential products for a household.
The bag came in two variations: $300 or $150.
For the price comparison, the Business Guardian used the items listed in the $300 bag as its reference point.
The bag contained most items that would occupy the grocery lists for households; flour, sugar, rice, milk, peas and toiletries.
The Business Guardian went to an east Trinidad store in the Trinidad where all of the items listed on its initial bargain bag list from 2020 and discovered that the entire bag would now cost $397.41, excluding the cost of the Massy Bag. That is an increase of 32.47 per cent
Adding the cost of the bag would raise the price of the bag to $409. That’s an increase of $109 since 2020.
Not surprisingly, the latest incarnation of the chain’s bargain bag has removed and replaced a few items.
A notable item that appeared on the initial bag was corn beef, which had been listed at $16.90 at the chain in August 2020. It has since been removed and replaced with the far more economical option of Vienna Sausages which retail for $5.99 per tin.
Corn Beef was priced at $20.99 last week. In May 2022, Corned Beef was even more expensive at the store with it being priced at $22.50. Now while some readers may state that the chain may have more expensive prices than other groceries, the Business Guardian compared its price to other groceries and noted the chain’s price was closer to the mean as a few groceries had listed the item for an even higher price, with one grocery even listing the cost of Corned Beef at $25.75 at that time.
In the recent CSO report, for the period April 2022 to April 2023, headline inflation amounted to 5.95 per cent per cent. That was down from the 7.60 per cent for the period February 2022 to February 2023.
The CSO said the food and non-alcoholic beverages decreased from 147.8 in February 2023 to 146.1 in March 2023, reflecting a decrease of 1.2 per cent.
The CSO continued in that report, “Contributing significantly to this decrease was the general downward movement in the prices of pumpkin, tomatoes, melon, hot peppers, cabbage, melongene, carrots, pimento, celery and parboiled rice.
“However, the full impact of these price decreases was offset by the general increases in the prices of chilled or frozen beef, fresh beef, chilled or frozen pork, cucumber, onions, oranges, table margarine, grapes, corn and plantains.
“Price changes in this section for the month of March 2023 accounted for a net overall decrease of 0.3 points in the All Items Index,” said the CSO.
T&T’s official statistics agency said: “A further review of the data for March 2023 compared with February 2023 reflected an increase in the sub-index for alcoholic beverages and tobacco of 2.1 per cent. Also, this period showed a decrease in the sub-index for Health of 0.3 per cent. All other sections remained unchanged.”
Based on the Business Guardian’s analysis of grocery prices, items like sardines, toothpaste, soap and margarine have decreased as have the prices of most items that had been imported.
This perhaps can be attributed to the easing of supply chain constraints.
In its T&T: 2023 Article IV Consultation, the International Monetary Fund noted, “Higher commodity and import prices affected inflation in Trinidad and Tobago. Imports from the US constitute about a third of total imports. Higher energy prices also affected transportation costs, with the potential to spill over into other components in the consumer basket. Also, global food prices significantly affected domestic food prices. “
The latter issue regarding transportation costs may explain why there remain several items that maintain similar price points to May 2022 compared to the beginning of June 2023..
The IMF said, “Starting in January 2021, external factors—e.g., US inflation, higher global food prices, and changes in the valuation of the US dollar—explained most of the increase in Trinidad and Tobago’s inflation. Domestic factors—e.g., growth of monetary base—started to gradually play an increasing role in recent months.”
It continued, “Other factors—the regression’s residual—have added between 0.1 and 0.5 per cent to the headline inflation during May and September 2022, and about 1.5 per cent in October and November 2022, coinciding with the adjustments in fuel prices in April and September. This component also might reflect increasing inflation expectations, which could not be included in the model directly due to the absence of their direct measure.”
A constant commonality has been that these prices remain far more expensive than their May 2020 price listings.
Flour, which saw two price increases in 2022, with National Flour Mills noting that the Russia-Ukraine conflict severely affected its operations.
A two kilogram (kg) bag of flour now costs almost $10 more than it did in 2020.
Likewise, a four kg bag of parboiled rice has also seen a similar jump in price by $10 when compared to its price in 2020.
These items are the cornerstone of the diet of most in this country.
In its Monetary Policy Announcement dated March 31, 2023, the Central Bank stated domestic inflation moderated in January. According to the Central Statistical Office, headline inflation decelerated to 8.3 per cent in January 2023 (year-on-year) compared with 8.7 per cent a month earlier.
It is left to be seen if by the next Monetary Policy report if the projected easing of inflation will finally lead to an ease on the pockets of the public.
Prices as listed:
Product*June 2, 2023*August 2020*May 2022
Red Kidney beans*$9.99* $9.70*$10.99
Channa in Brine*$8.75*$8.99*$10.99
Peas and Carrots*$8.50*$8.25*$10.50
Yellow split peas*$6.50*$4.95*$6.50
All purpose flour*$19.50/19.95*$12.95*$15.50
Corn Beef *$20.99*$16.90*$22.50
Sardines in water*$9.50*$8.50*$10.99