Inflation hit 9% in April 2022 - 2% up on the previous month - meaning the UK is currently struggling more than most other major European economies.
So how much have food prices risen across key product categories - and will they continue to increase?
How much has the price of food and drink changed?
The CPI, which is the official mechanism used to measure inflation in the UK, showed the cost of food and drink has gone up 6.7% year-on-year as of April 2022.
While this is lower than the overall 9% rise recorded on the CPI, increases across many key categories have exceeded this hike.
- Pasta products: a key base for UK meals, pasta and couscous saw their prices go up 10.4% year-on-year having already jumped 14.9% in January as a result of poor wheat harvests in 2021.
- Meat: Meat has gone up in price across the board, with lamb (14.3% up), beef (10.2%) and poultry (10.1%) all seeing large increases.
- Dairy: Milk, cheese and eggs (9.5%) and butter (12.5%) have also seen hikes. These rises (along with those for meat) have come as a result of farmers facing increases to their production costs, with the prices of fertiliser, feed and fuel all rising sharply as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- Oils and fats: This category has seen rises of 14.5% off the back of a 22.7% increase in the margarine and vegetable fats sub-category - a change that’s been driven by the war in Ukraine. Shortages have already been seen in supermarkets as Russia and Ukraine produce around 55% of the world’s sunflower oil and are also major exporters of rapeseed oil. These oils are key ingredients in many foods, so their scarcity is driving up prices across the board (e.g. sauces and condiment prices have risen 13.3% in price).
Other key food categories have not been affected to quite the same extent, as of April 2022 at least.
Fruit prices have gone up 6.2% against April 2021 - although this is 0.7% below the prices seen in January 2022.
Vegetables and potatoes are 4.6% more expensive than they were last year, but this is 1.4% down against December 2021.
And the price of rice, a major sub-category within the bread and cereals band, is 3.4% above last April - although r, prices were 6.8% down in March 2021 compared to the previous year, meaning consumers are still not paying what they were two years ago.
While the CPI is the UK’s official benchmark of inflation, there are other trackers of how much food prices have gone up by.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which represents most major UK supermarket chains, and data analytics firm Nielsen run a Shop Price Index containing a basket of 250 essential food and drink items and another 250 basic non-food items.
This yardstick suggested the price of essential foods rose 3.5% year-on-year and 0.2% month-on-month as of April 2022 - the highest inflation rate recorded by this measure since March 2013.
While fresh food dropped 0.1% in price to be 3.4% up on a year ago, ambient foods rose 0.5% month-on-month to 3.5%.
BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said the fall in fresh food prices was as a result of “fierce competition” between supermarkets.
Will food prices continue to rise this year?
Helen Dickinson has warned higher food costs would still “filter through the supply chain” to add “further upward pressure on UK food prices in the coming months”.
“Retailers will continue to do all they can to keep prices down and deliver value for their customers by limiting price rises and expanding their value ranges, but this will put pressure on them to find cost-savings elsewhere,” Ms Dickinson explained.
“Unfortunately, customers should brace themselves for further price rises and a bumpy road ahead.”
Indeed, although the UK does not rely on Eastern Europe for much of its food supplies, the global price shocks coming as a result of the war in Ukraine are likely to continue to push bills higher.
The biggest issues associated with the conflict are fuel prices and the availability and cost of fertiliser - both of which are set to continue to hamper farmers given Russia and Ukraine’s importance to global supplies.
Fuel is also a major issue for supply chains that get food products from A to B.
While Russia-Ukraine is playing a major role in food price rises, the UK also has its own specific challenges that look set to continue to push costs up.
Why are these food price rises an issue?
The big problem with rising food prices is they’re not happening in isolation.
All of these things will “exacerbate the pressure on families in the coming months”, says Indu Gurung, acting project manager for the Peas Please vegetable campaign from the Food Foundation.
“The escalating cost of living crisis has been making it increasingly difficult for many families in the UK to afford the food they need.
“The Chancellor’s Spring Statement included a range of measures intended to ease cost of living pressures. But these measures are not sufficient to protect the most vulnerable families from food insecurity and to ensure that everyone is able to access adequate nutritious food.
“All the signs suggest that the cost of living situation is likely to deteriorate further without substantial intervention from government.”
But issues with food costs pre-date the current squeeze crisis.
A survey conducted by food industry-led healthy eating campaign Veg Power that covered the year to February 2022 found 26% of families and 49% of households earning under £30,000 a year were buying fewer fresh vegetables due to food price increases.