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Inflation: From milk to bread, what is driving the surge in food prices

Inflation  A person carries a box of tomatoes during early morning business hours at New Covent Garden Market in London, Britain, March 9, 2023. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Inflation remains above 10% as food prices surge. Photo: Henry Nicholls/Reuters (Henry Nicholls / reuters)

Food prices increased by 19.2% year-on-year, the sharpest jump since August 1977, as UK households continued to grapple with double digit inflation.

The consumer price index rose by an annual 10.1%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This is a slight dip from the unexpected jump to 10.4% of February.

Inflation is the increase in the price of something over time. If a bottle of milk costs £1 but £1.05 a year later, then annual milk inflation is 5%.

Falling inflation doesn't mean prices are falling, but just that the rate of prices rises is slowing.

Food and non-alcoholic drink prices were the key driver of inflation, rising by 19.2% in the year to March.

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Bread and cereal prices rose by 19.4%, while meat cost 17.4% more than in March 2022 and fish price jumped 16.7%.

Read more: UK inflation eases but remains above 10% as food prices soar

Whole milk prices jumped by 37.9%, while olive oil cost 49.2% more than last year. Meanwhile, eggs rose 32% and vegetable prices rose 19.3%. Fruit was 10.6% more expensive.

James Smith, research director at the Resolution Foundation, said: “Many countries have experienced big recent falls in prices pressures, but Britain has not followed suit and remains mired in double digit inflation.

“Headline inflation should fall sharply next month as the effect of last April’s energy price spike falls out of the data. But the acceleration of food price inflation to nearly 20% is a major cause for concern, particularly for low-income families who spend a far greater share of their income on food than richer households.”

Vegetable shortages had helped push food and non-alcohol prices up to 18.2% in February, reflecting the sharpest increase in more than 45 years.

Grant Fitzner, chief economist for the ONS, said globally food prices were falling, but that had not yet led to price cuts.

"There's been some strong upward movement in food prices and you would expect to see that reflected in supermarkets but we're not there yet," he told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme.

Resolution Foundation analysis shows that the effective inflation rate for the poorest tenth of households was around 3.5 percentage points higher than for the richest tenth of households in March.

JRF senior economist Rachelle Earwaker, said: “Food prices alone have risen by an astonishing 19.1% in the year to March – another new high and the highest rate in over 45 years. The cost of food risks perpetuating this crisis long into the future, as families are increasingly unable to provide what they know they need to be healthy – regular, nutritious, cooked meals.

Read more: UK inflation expected to drop below double digits — but interest rates still set to rise

“With the nation’s health under strain, it is a moral outrage that fresh food is increasingly out of reach for people already in danger of leading shorter, less healthy lives.

“The cost of essential items is causing a daily struggle for millions, especially those who had the least before this crisis began.

Analysis by consumer group Which? shows year-on-year price increases for UK groceries reached 17.5% in the four weeks to 19 March, while the price of some food basics have increased by up to 80%.

Sue Davies, Which? head of Food Policy, said: “These figures reflect Which?'s inflation tracker research, which shows that prices of everyday food essentials such as porridge oats, cheddar and bread have rocketed by up to 80% in the last year. Millions of people are struggling to put food on the table, with some parents telling us they are skipping meals just to make sure their children have something to eat.

“Supermarkets need to step up and do more to help their customers.”

While food prices remained stubbornly high, petrol prices eased, bringing some relief for motorists.

Here is much prices have risen over the 12 months to March:

Food price increases – overall 19.2%

Bread and cereals - 19.4%

Meat - 17.4%

Fish - 16.7%

Eggs - 32%

Low-fat milk - 38.8%

Oils and fats - 25.6%

Cheese and curd - 33.6%

Fruit - 10.6%

Pizza and quiche - 17.2%

Vegetables - 19.3%

Jams, marmalades and honey - 20.9%

Butter - 22.7%

Non-alcoholic beverages – 14.2%

Tea - 19%

Coffee - 15.6%

Mineral waters, soft drinks and juices - 13.3%

Alcoholic beverages – 6%

Spirits - 6.1%

Wine - 4.8%

Beer - 7.6%

Tobacco – 4.7%

Clothing – 7.3%

Garments - 7.4%

Other clothing and clothing accessories - 6.2%

Footwear – 6.1%

Electricity, gas and other fuels – 83.7%

Electricity - 66.7%

Gas - 129.4%

Liquid fuels - (-22.5%)

Solid fuels - 25%

Council tax and rates – 3.4%

Furniture, furnishings and carpets – 9.4%

Furniture and furnishings - 9.2%

Carpets and other floor coverings - 10.3%

Household textiles – 2.6%

Glassware, tableware and household utensils - 2.6%

Tools and equipment for house and garden - 6.7%

Purchase of vehicles – 0.5%

New cars - 6.5%

Second-hand cars - (-4.5%)

Motorcycles and bicycles - (-0.9%)

Transport services – 9.8%

Passenger transport by railway - 5.3%

Passenger transport by road - 6.7%

Passenger transport by air - 24.2%

Passenger transport by sea and inland waterway - 14.4%

Postal services – 5.2%

Recreational and cultural services – 3.6%

Recreational and sporting services - 4.1%

Museums 6.7%

Cinemas, theatres and concerts 3.7%

Books, newspapers and stationery – 8%

Books - 4.6%

Newspapers and periodicals - 11.9%

Misc. printed matter, stationery, drawing materials - 8.4%

Package holidays – 11.9%

Education – 3.2%

Catering services – 10.3%

Restaurants & cafes - 10.4%

Canteens - 5.7%

Accommodation services – 15.2%

Hotels and motels 16.6%

Personal care – 10.4%

Hairdressing and personal grooming establishments - 6.3%

Appliances and products for personal care - 11.4%

Overall CPIH – 8.9%

Food and non-alcoholic beverages - 19.2%

Alcoholic beverages and tobacco - 5.3%

Clothing and footwear - 7.2%

Housing, water, electricity, gas and other fuels - 11.6%

Furniture, household equipment and maintenance - 8%

Health - 7.3%

Transport - 1%

Communication - 3.6%

Education - 3.2%

Restaurant and hotels - 11.3%

Miscellaneous goods and services - 6.8%

Watch: How does inflation affect interest rates?

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