UK inflation: how much have food prices risen amid UK cost of living crisis - and will they continue to go up?

UK upermarket food prices have been driven up by the Russia-Ukraine war, Brexit and Covid-19

The UK is enduring the worst cost of living crisis for 40 years, new Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures have shown.

The cost of most daily goods and services have been pushed up, with Boris Johnson’s government coming under pressure to do more to help the UK’s most vulnerable people.

One of the biggest challenges facing households is rising food prices, with the ONS pointing to them as a major contributor for rises to the consumer price index (CPI) and the Bank of England describing them as “apocalyptic”.

These increases have even been felt in supermarket value ranges, which are a key source of nutrition for many of the UK’s most deprived people.

Food and drink prices have gone up by 4.5% and have been cited as a major driver of overall inflation (image: AFP/Getty Images)

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.

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Based on surveys it had conducted, the ONS estimated 92% of Brits had seen their grocery bill go up with 39% of adults cutting back on their food shopping.

  • 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).
Meat prices have gone up 3%, with the cost of lamb rising a whopping 14% (image: Getty Images)

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.

Fruit and veg prices have risen at a slower rate than other categories (image: AFP/Getty Images)

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 ONS has itself done an analysis of how prices have changed for 30 key value range food items bought online from supermarkets by the UK’s poorest households.

On 30 May, it reported value pasta prices rose 50% between April 2021 and April 2022.

Crisps (17%), bread (16%), minced beef (16%) and rice (15%) also saw significant price hikes over the year-long period.

However, falls were registered in the price of potatoes (14%), cheese (7%), pizza (4%), chips (3%), sausages (3%) and apples (1%).

The average shopping trolley has gone up in price 3.4% according to Which? data (image: AFP/Getty Images)

Recent research by consumer watchdog Which? also found prices of some key food and drink items had rocketed since the Covid pandemic.

Meanwhile, 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 was 4.3% higher as of the first week of May than a year ago and 0.7% up month-on-month - the highest inflation rate recorded by this measure since April 2012.

While fresh food went up 1.1% in price to be 4.5% up on a year ago, ambient foods rose 0.5% month-on-month to 4% above prices last year.

BRC CEO Helen Dickinson said the rises were as a result of a continued climb in commodity, energy and transport costs.

“Fresh food inflation hit its highest rate in a decade, with items like poultry and margarine seeing some of the largest increases due to soaring costs of animal feed and near-record global food prices,” she said.

Will food prices continue to rise this year?

Helen Dickinson has warned the situation is “likely to get worse before it gets better”.

“With little sign that the cost burden on retailers will ease any time soon, they will be left with little room for manoeuvre, especially those whose supply chains are affected by lockdowns in China and the war in Ukraine,” she explained.

“While many people will welcome the Government’s latest announcement of support, uncertainty in the future of energy prices means they may only provide temporary respite.”

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.

Soaring energy prices could force people to choose between heating and eating, The Food Foundation said (image: AFP/Getty Images)

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.

For example, Brexit-related trade friction and labour shortages are making it more expensive to import and produce food in the UK.

Why are these food price rises an issue?

The big problem with rising food prices is they’re not happening in isolation.

Energy bills rose for millions of UK households in April and the cost of filling up your car has risen sharply.

At the same time, wages are failing to keep up with inflation and are now taking more of a hit thanks to tax hikes.

These issues particularly affect poor people, who spend a bigger proportion of their income on energy, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

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.”

Research by the Food Foundation has shown UK food poverty has grown 57% since January, with 7.3 million adults and 2.6 million children unable to reliably access enough affordable and nutritious food.

The government has introduced several measures it says will be enough to tackle the crisis, including increasing the national insurance threshold and the council tax rebate.

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.