COVID-19 has ravaged the world and the pandemic situation continues to fluctuate, throwing global logistics and the supply chain into disarray, and consequently driving up product prices. As Hong Kong citizens spend more time social distancing at home, their demand for daily necessities and groceries along with household expenses have increased in tandem, adding extra burden to their livelihoods.
The Consumer Council has closely monitored the grocery price fluctuations during the pandemic. Based on the data from the supermarket price comparison tool “Online Price Watch” (OPW), the Consumer Council sampled and analysed the price of over 700 grocery items from 4 supermarket chains and food shops, namely PARKnSHOP, Market Place by Jasons, AEON, and DCH Food Mart, during the period from June to November 2021. The survey, which covered 3 major product categories namely “bakery/cereals/spreads”, “rice/oil/canned foods/fruits/vegetables/meat”, and “personal care”, revealed a 1.5% increase in average price over the course of 6 months. Amongst the surveyed categories, the average price of “bakery/cereals/spreads” showed the steepest increase of 2.4%
The Council reminds consumers that in the face of inflation, the price of certain products could vastly vary across supermarkets. Amongst the 10 products with the largest percentage price difference across supermarkets, half were canned foods. It was also revealed that discounts for milk powder, personal care and household goods, etc., had diminished. Consumers are encouraged to make good use of the Council’s OPW tool, which allows easy comparison of supermarket goods and selection of the best deals in the comfort of home, before purchasing the products online or at the target supermarket. On a side note, consumers should also pay attention to the terms and arrangements for delivery and refunds when shopping online. Based on the data from OPW, the Council calculated the aggregate price of a basket of around 30 household items for a family of 4 who regularly shop at supermarkets. It was found that if the consumer could better utilise the tool to compare prices before buying daily necessities at the supermarket offering the best deal, savings could be as high as over $100 per time, equivalent to a 10% discount without having to wait for supermarket sales. This could amount to huge household savings as small expenses could add up.
Average Percentage Price Increase of Product Categories Varied Across 4 Supermarkets; Most Significant for Bakery Category
The overall average product price for the 3 sampled product categories across all 4 supermarkets was $45.9 in June 2021, gradually climbing to its height of $46.9 in October. Despite the figure slightly easing to $46.6 in November, the overall average product price recorded a 1.5% increase over the 6-month survey period, amongst which 1 supermarket had an upsurge of 4.1%, while another dipped by 1%. Upon reviewing the average percentage product price increase for each of the 3 categories, “bakery/cereals/spreads” saw the steepest increase of 2.4%, out of which 2 supermarkets recorded around a 7% rise. Ranked second was “personal care” with a 2.3% rise, and particularly for 1 supermarket, 34 out of its 50 items with the highest percentage price increase were from this category. On the other hand, the “rice/oil/canned foods/fruits/vegetables/meat” category had a relatively lower average percentage price increase of 0.4%.
Large Percentage Price Difference for Canned Foods Across Supermarkets
The Council reminds consumers that the price of the same item could drastically vary across different supermarkets. Based on the price in November 2021, the products with the largest percentage price difference across the 4 supermarkets were identified. Amongst the top 77 products, close to half (36) were from the “rice/oil/canned foods/fruits/vegetables/meat” category, 28 were “personal care” products, whereas “bakery/cereals/spreads” accounted for 13 products. Meanwhile, amongst the top 10 products, 5 were canned foods, predominantly canned whole kernel corn, cream corn and baked beans in tomato sauce. A model of canned whole kernel corn showed the greatest disparity of over 90% (price ranged from $6.0 to $11.4), while the canned cream corn from the same brand also showed a huge difference of over 65%, with the price ranging from $6.0 to $9.9 across the 4 supermarkets.
Actual Price of Baby Diapers/Diaper Pants Varied Considerably
The Council’s survey also found the price of baby diapers/diaper pants to differ by $24.7 to as much as $52.9 across different supermarkets, amongst which the model of baby diapers with the largest price difference ranged in price from $116.1 to $169, a difference of $52.9. Many baby products, such as diapers or baby formula, could easily cost more than a hundred dollars, and the same product could also significantly vary in price across different supermarkets. Therefore, consumers are advised to compare the prices of high-priced goods across different supermarkets using price comparison tools to boost savings.
Fewer Supermarket Discounts Offered Coupled with Downsized Products by Manufacturers, Resulting in Shrinkflation
Despite some products not showing a direct price rise, shrinkflation is apparent as supermarkets offered fewer discounts, along with package downsizing by manufacturers. Aside from an increase in product price, the survey also found that 2 out of the 4 supermarkets have offered significantly fewer discounts, amongst which the number of discounts for 1 supermarket plunged from 4,409 counts in June to 4,099 in November 2021, reduced by 310; as for the other supermarket, the number of discounts dropped nearly 20% from 270 in June to 220 in November 2021. The reduced number of discounts involved milk powder, personal care, and household goods, etc., with examples including a free 1.8L refill pack of laundry liquid upon purchase of any 2 tubes of toothpaste in 110g or 150g sizes from another brand; and a $8 discount upon spending $60 on shower products of 2 specified brands.
Besides, referencing the data from OPW from June to November 2021, some products have shrunk in size while the price remained unchanged, for example a model of lozenges was reduced from 45g to 40g, a model of peanut chocolate decreased from 40g to 37g, and a type of seafood flavoured instant noodles shrunk from 75g to 72g, the reduction being 11.1%, 7.5% and 4% respectively.
Compare Prices to Save Up to 10% in Expenses
Owing to the considerable percentage and actual price differences of the same product across supermarkets, consumers who tend to only shop at a single supermarket will incur a higher expenditure than those adept at finding the best deals. Taking for example a family of 2 stocking up on groceries to prepare for social distancing at home, the aggregate price of a basket of 20 items all purchased at the same supermarket, including canned foods, oil, rice, oatmeal, frozen foods, shower products, toothpaste, toothbrushes, cleaning supplies, etc., would amount to around $914.1. On the contrary, if they buy the lowest-priced items from different supermarkets after comparing prices, the aggregate price would only be $819.4, equivalent to 11.6% in savings ($94.7). Taking this example further, a family of 4 including the parents, a baby and a junior primary schoolchild would require, aside from the basket of items illustrated above, an additional 10 products, including diapers, baby formula, snacks, etc. The aggregate price at a single supermarket would be around $1,560, while shopping at different supermarkets for the lowest-priced items would add up to around $1,407.9, representing a 10.8% difference in the aggregate price. If 2 more senior citizens are added to the family of 4, i.e. a family of 6, adding to the basket above an additional 5 products, including canned soup, adult formula, biscuits, mouth wash, etc., the aggregate price would be around $1,855.1 at a single supermarket, an 11% (almost $200) difference compared with opting for the lowest-priced items at different supermarkets which amounted to $1,671. Daily household expenses may seem trivial, but small amounts could add up. Moreover, as the prices of groceries and daily necessities continue to swell, consumers are recommended to shop smart and be well-prepared for at-home social distancing and ringing in the new year.
The Council will continue to monitor the fluctuation in product prices amidst the pandemic and disseminate relevant information in a timely manner, so as to remind the public to choose wisely. Consumers can also browse the web or mobile version of the Council’s “Online Price Watch” (https://online-price-watch.consumer.org.hk) to compare groceries prices amongst 6 supermarket chains, food shops and personal care stores. The prices of over 2,300 popular items are updated daily, allowing consumers to fully grasp the price trends without having to visit the stores in person. The Council will continue to evolve with the times and provide consumers with round-the-clock price updates riding on the power of technology. At the same time, the Council urges supermarket conglomerates to refrain from pushing up the price of daily necessities and groceries during the pandemic, to fulfill their corporate social responsibility by helping the community tide over the tough times.