As in the eighties song of Alaska and the Pegamoides Horror in the hypermarket, scares in supermarkets have become the daily life of many consumers. Never have so many foods risen so much at once, or for so long. The situation, with price increases for a year that accelerated from March, is unprecedented according to experts. Of 24 categories of usual products chosen for this report, based on the guide for the healthy shopping basket of the Ministry of Consumption, all have risen, according to the INE. 20 of them have done more than general inflation, 10.5% in August, because food, explained the statistical institute in the latest data presentation, is one of the categories that most pulls prices up. The increase in the price of the group of food and non-alcoholic beverages, which in August reached its maximum since 1994 with an average of 13.8%, erodes the purchasing power of families month after month.
The average expenditure on food per person was 1,610.30 euros in 2021, according to the latest Food Consumption Report from the Ministry of Agriculture. Just applying an increase of 13.8% to that would mean raising spending for this year by 222.2 euros. For a household of three people, the additional cost would be 55 euros per month. But in that amount everything that is bought is contemplated. The analysis of EL PAÍS has focused only on 24 basic items, which last year added a per capita disbursement of 873.61 euros. By applying the inflation of August, the annual expenditure would rise by 142 euros, or what is the same: 40 cents more per day. For a family of three, it represents an additional cost of more than 425 euros per year. A couple with two children would exceed 567 euros of extra outlay. And this without taking into account that, by eliminating products that are not considered essential, it would surely be necessary to buy more of those that are.
The increase in the supermarket bill worries households. The Minister of Labor, Yolanda Díaz, has asked companies in the distribution sector such as Mercadona, Carrefour, Lidl and Dia to offer their customers an affordable basket. These have been unmarked from the proposal for the time being because they assure that their prices are already very tight, with margins that range between 1% and 2%.
The food chain, from production to sale on the shelves, bears high costs for energy and raw materials. The maintenance of the cold chain, transport, packaging, feed… the bill does not stop growing. Supermarkets claim “enormous” efforts to contain prices and that distribution is an “extraordinarily efficient” sector, as Javier Millán-Astray, executive vice president of Anged, which includes companies such as El Corte Inglés or Carrefour, has repeated this week. In the field, Álvaro Areta, technical manager of COAG, agrees on energy and raw materials as the main causes, but emphasizes some inefficiencies in the chain that aggravate the problems, such as price increases moving very quickly, but not the downs. Regarding distribution margins, he states that “2%, with a very high turnover, is a considerable amount”.
Since 1988, the consumer organization OCU has carried out an annual price study of the shopping basket. In July they published the last one and it showed an average increase of 15%, a record. “We have never seen this: 95% of products go up, including staples like chicken and rice. And the increases are homogeneous between chains”, affirms Enrique García, spokesman for the association. Noelia Arenas, an expert at the consulting firm Nielsen IQ, which carries out similar studies, points out another problem with generalized inflation: “Consumers tend to switch to cheaper alternative products and now everything is up, even white brands. So they look for more promotions and better offers. Do they stop buying? No, because you can’t stop buying staples.”
But the pocket suffers and the amount of the basket, too. The so-called crisis consumption is adopted: greater frequency of purchase with the lighter car. Or, as the consulting firm Kantar has detected, the trend of eating a single dish is intensifying (52.4% of meals, the highest level since 2020), while food waste has fallen by 12.3% in one year. The immediate future could not be more uncertain: “The forecasts are complicated now, because we do not know how inflation is going to evolve,” admits Arenas.
The best option, according to Consumption, is to look for offers and that the foods are healthy, like those that are grouped in your guide. Nutritionist Azahara Nieto’s recommendation is almost exact. The basis of a good diet, she points out, should be “fruit, vegetables, legumes, animal or vegetable proteins of high biological value, and olive oil.” Nieto assures that the economic situation inevitably sneaks into the consultation: “They tell you that the fruit is very expensive and in the end less variety is bought. It is no longer so much a whim as comparing prices”.
Eating well (or badly) has become very expensive. These are the main food groups considered basic in any healthy diet and how their prices have risen.
Fruits and nuts
Fruits represent the highest per capita expense in the shopping basket of Spaniards in 2021: 156 euros that, after a 24% rise until the eighth month of the year, would become close to 200 euros. But their consumption is essential in all meals of the day and they are difficult to replace. According to experts, nutritionally it does not matter if you take them fresh, frozen or canned (natural, not with syrups or the like). Nuts, on the other hand, are recommended but according to the caloric needs of each person. And luckily, they are the item in the healthy basket that has risen the least in the last year: only 4.6%, which would allow a similar consumption pattern to be maintained without causing a great decrease in the family economy.
Legumes and vegetables
We are before the other fundamental category. Fruits and vegetables should account for at least half of the daily food intake and the Consumption guide reminds that legumes are a source of healthy proteins that is “affordable”. This year, a little less. As a whole, legumes and vegetables (the INE does not discriminate between both categories) have risen by 11.3%. As they suppose, after fruit, the largest food expenditure pie in Spanish households (almost 120 euros per person per year), the episode of famine would now mean having to pay about 13 euros more per year for the same amount.
Different categories of products enter this drawer. Bread is the most common on Spanish tables and the one that costs the most: 71 euros per capita in 2021. The average rise of 15.2% means paying almost 11 euros more in 12 months. Other products such as pasta or flour have become more expensive, with more than 30% and almost 40% year-on-year inflation, respectively. The nutritionist reminds that these foods must be adapted to circumstances such as age or physical activity that is done. The rise bears the unmistakable stamp of the conflict in Eastern Europe. Ukraine was considered one of the world’s breadbaskets for wheat and corn. The blockade on the exit of products by ship has raised fears of a famine in Africa. In contrast, rice is one of the products that has become less expensive.
Among the largest increases, the one suffered by oils other than olive stands out, which exceeds 71%. The exorbitant percentage is also explained by the direct impact of the war. Spain imported a quarter of its sunflower oil from Ukraine and, at the beginning of the conflict, some supermarkets even limited its sale. The price doubled in April and since then it has relaxed, but it is by far the food that has become more expensive. Nieto, who is an expert in vegetarian and vegan nutrition, points out that from a health point of view, olive oil is more recommended.
This one doesn’t get rid of climbing either. In August it was 13.2% more expensive than a year before. And taking into account that it is a much more consumed product by the Spanish (with almost 8 liters per capita), its increase will mean paying 3.33 euros more per person this year. Taking the same amount as in 2021, this year the equivalent of one more bottle would be paid.
milk and yogurts
Many Spaniards cannot conceive of a breakfast without milk. The consumption of semi-skimmed or skimmed products reaches up to 50 liters per person per year. And the bad news is that their inflation is as high as their consumption. There are hardly any differences between the whole ones (26.3% increase until August) and the skimmed ones (26%). Yes, yoghurts have risen a little less (17%). The annual extra cost, if the behavior pattern of 2021 is maintained, would exceed 18 euros per person as a whole. The nutritionist reminds that dairy products “are not essential” and she recommends also taking vegetable drinks into account.
They are more common in the diet than many experts advise and represent a significant expense in Spanish homes. Each person spends more than 162 euros per year between beef, pork and poultry, the three most common. The last one, together with the rabbit, is the one recommended by Consumption. And also the one that has become more expensive: 17.6%. That of pork is in the opposite position because it has risen 9.8%. A curious case is that of lamb meat, the only one of the 24 products analyzed that has become cheaper so far this year (not compared to last year). Although it surely influences that its consumption is very seasonal, with a peak in December.
They are a source of protein and the base of the potato omelette, the quintessential Spanish dish. But the elaborations in which they are used cover much more: consumption per head in Spain is close to nine kilos a year. That meant in 2021 an expense of more than 21 euros. With the same amount this year, almost 5 euros more would be spent, since they appear at the top of the table of increases (22.4%).
With meat, it is the quintessential protein on Spanish tables. Although at the beginning of the war crisis the fishermen staged protests over the rise in diesel (which makes fishing activity more expensive), the prices in the markets have shown a more discreet course. Fresh fish is 9.7% more expensive than a year ago, a not insignificant percentage because it is usually a more expensive product than others, although below general inflation. Although it is nutritionally the same to eat it frozen, it has become more expensive, 10.8%, so the price differences between the two types have been reduced.
Salt, coffee and sugar
These are not products that appear in the nutritional guides other than to recommend a very moderate consumption, but even so they are omnipresent in the daily life of almost all houses. Their increases are discreet, below what the general food index has risen. As the price of sugar and salt is low, it does not put a big hole in the household accounts. Coffee did imply an average expense per person in 2021 of more than 30 euros, which will rise by about 4.19 euros per year when applying a rise of 13.7%, the largest among the three items.