Rising food prices hit every supermarket aisle putting pressure on low-income families
The price of food has continued to rise, with new data showing that every supermarket aisle has been hit by hikes, not just fruit and vegetables.
The soaring prices have led researchers to call on the federal government to help subsidise growers, amid concerns it’s costing some lower socioeconomic families 40% of their income to buy a week’s worth of healthy food.
Comparing the cost of 28 staples between June 2020 and June 2022, researchers from Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation found that the price of lettuce and broccoli had the biggest jump, increasing by more than 100% within two years.
In 2020 a head of lettuce would have cost $2.50, but now costs more than $5, and broccoli jumped from $5.90 to $11.90 a kilogram.
Tomatoes saw the third-highest jump, going from $6.90 to $9.90 a kilogram over two years, but it wasn’t just fruit and vegetables, with Christina Zorbas, a researcher at Deakin University, calling the increase a “crisis”.
“Dairy produce, yoghurt and cheese, meat – chicken and mince, bread, pasta and rice … have gone up 5% to 10%,” she said.
Zorbas said every aisle is being affected by large price hikes – except for junk food. The price of some pasta like spaghetti increased by 13%, potatoes went up 12% and milk went up 9%. The research showed a litre of olive oil went from $12 to $16.
“The consumer price index that got released in the last quarter shows fruit and vegetables went up 7% across the board everything else went up 4%,” Zorbas said.
“You see the disparity between healthy and less healthy, takeaway foods have gone up by 1%.”
There were a few vegetables that bucked the trend – the price of carrot, onion and sweet corn stayed steady.
Some fruits decreased in price such as oranges, which have gone from $3.50 to $3.22 a kilogram in two years, and Apples which have dropped from $5.50 to $4.50.
The recent floods in New South Wales and Queensland, coupled with the increase in the cost of fuel due to the war in Ukraine, have meant almost everything is more expensive at the moment.
Zorbas said the increasing prices have “exacerbated health inequality” and called on the government to subsidise growers until the crisis was over.
“We need subsidies going towards farmers that produce healthy foods,” she said.
“The sugar industry is heavily subsided, the farmers need money so I’m not against it, but it is the same way that the fossil fuel industry is heavily subsidised.
“Why can’t we be giving more money to farmers who make the food that is so important for health and wellbeing?”
Before the pandemic, buying food for a healthy diet cost 25% of disposable income for low-income households and 30% for those living at the poverty line, Zorbas said.
“In rural or remote areas, it’s higher than that,” she said. “In some of the rural Aboriginal communities it’s 40% to 50% of their incomes.
“Now that’s gone up – it was already not accessible, it has just made matters worse.”
Kristin O’Connell, a spokesperson from the Antipoverty Centre, said they were seeing an increase in people living below the poverty line skipping meals.
“It’s very simple,” O’Connell said. “Since the dramatic prices started to kick in a few months ago people on the lowest incomes have just been eating less and less.
“It’s not just managing our extremely limited incomes by reducing the amount we eat but we are also having our options taken away. Because so many of the cheapest products are again disappearing from shelves like they did during lockdowns.”
While food subsidies were a possible solution, she said the best thing to help Australians living in poverty was to increase the amount of assistance they are offered.
“We don’t need some kind of new version of a voucher programme or a rationing scheme – we need money,” she said.
“There are lots of things that would reduce the cost of living in a meaningful way for people on low incomes, but in this situation, it’s a crisis … the most straightforward and direct way to make sure that we can eat enough is to give us money.”