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Average Price of Nearly 65% of Goods in Supermarkets Recorded Steeper Increase than Overall Inflation Packaged Rice, Canned and Frozen Food Showed Considerable Rise Make Price Comparisons Wisely to Ride out Difficult Times
Owing to the COVID-19 outbreak last year and the spread of rumours on the Internet about various products going out of stock, panic buying in supermarkets and stockpile of staple food such as rice, canned food, toilet rolls and bleach was observed. Consumers’ rising demand for daily necessities thus reflected in the increasing retail prices at supermarkets last year. In the Consumer Council’s annual supermarket price survey 2020, the aggregate average price of a basket of 230 items from 2 large supermarket chains recorded a rise of 1.9% when compared with that of the previous year, even under the economic downturn. The finding also represented a rise above the Composite Consumer Price Index (Composite CPI) during the same period (0.3%), indicating consumers’ burden to expend on staple food continued to increase. Among the nearly 65% of items that recorded a price increase steeper than the inflation rate (147 items), pantry staples such as the “canned food” category recorded the highest rise by almost 20%, whereas frozen food such as “frozen dim sum/ready meals” and “frozen meat” also recorded a rise of 10% or more. The “packaged rice” also recorded a continuous price increase for 3 consecutive years, with an increase of almost 5% last year.
As COVID-19 badly affected the economy last year and the unemployment rate rose to record high levels, the Council calls on supermarket groups to shoulder more social responsibilities and tide over the difficult times together by trying to avoid increasing the prices of staple food and daily necessities. The Council reminds consumers to compare product prices carefully for a smart consumption choice.
Many citizens began stockpiling food products such as luncheon meat, canned fish and canned soup due to social distancing and quarantine measures. According to survey results, the “canned food” category recorded the steepest rise in aggregate average price out of all 13 product categories, rising by 19.9% within a year. All 3 groups of products under this category (18 items in total) recorded a rise with 16 of them ranged between an increase of about 15% and 30%. The highest one (25.1%) was found in the “canned meat” group, with 6 items had an increase between 21.2% and 32.7%. 3 “chopped pork and ham” products recorded the highest rises in this group. “Canned vegetables/soup” and “canned fish”, marking their second consecutive year of rising prices since 2019, also had a rise of 17.7% and 15.4% respectively. Among the items under “canned vegetables/soup” and “canned fish” (6 items each), a “cream corn” product and a “fried dace with salted black beans” product had the steepest rise. Contrary to the popular belief that canned food was the cheapest food available, it did not appear as economical as many expected anymore.
“Bread/cake/spread” recorded a rise of 6.4% in aggregate average price in 2020 and became the product category with the second highest rise. An increase of over 13.3% was recorded in the “prepackaged cake” group under this category, and all 3 products under the “prepackaged cake” group had a rise of over 10%.
Owing to the ease of keeping “frozen food” at home, this product category recorded a rise of 5.4% in aggregate average price in 2020. Over 40% of items in this category (7 items) had an increase in average price by more than 10%. A “shrimp wonton” product even recorded a rise of 19.9%. 3 out of 4 items under the “frozen meat” group also recorded an increase in average price by more than 10%, with a “chicken wing” product had a rise of 10.3% last year after having risen by 7.4% in 2019.
As for the “non-staple food/sauces” category, the aggregate average price also rose by 5% last year. Apart from “breakfast cereal” which dropped by 2.3%, the other 4 product groups recorded a rise between 3.2% (“sauces/condiments”) and 15.2% (“pasta sauce/salad dressing”). The aggregate average price of “instant noodle” and “noodles” recorded a rise of 8.4% and 7.3% in 2020 respectively.
When COVID-19 first began to spread last year, the sold out image of rice at supermarkets was widely reported in the news due to panic buying. As compared with a rise of 3.4% under the “staple food” category, the aggregate average price of “packaged rice” under this product category rose by 4.7% last year, after having risen by 10.7% in 2018 and 8.5% in 2019. Among the 9 rice items under this group, 7 recorded a continuous increase in average price in the last 3 years. The price increase of 2 rice items from the same brand is more alarming, recorded a rise of 12% and 9.1% last year.
On the other hand, affected by the disease prevention measures and a drop in visitor arrivals, the average price of some products dropped last year. The “milk powder/infant diapers” category recorded the biggest drop of 1.6%. A product under the “infant milk powder” group recorded the largest drop at 6%. 2 “high calcium low fat milk powder” products under the “adult milk powder” group also dropped by 3.9% and 2.6% respectively.
Besides, “chocolates/confectionery” recorded a drop of 4.2% in aggregate average price in 2020, which was the biggest drop among all product groups. A popular “chocolate” product among tourists recorded a huge drop of 10.7% in average price last year. The “toilet tissue/facial tissue” and “paper towel” groups also recorded a drop of 2.9% and 1% respectively. The price of a “10-roll toilet tissue” product even plunged by 10.5%. However, “household cleaning products” edged up by 0.2% in aggregate average price. Among the 2 “bleach” products that many consumers bought during panic buying last year, 1 had a steep price increase of 14.6% while that of the other recorded a slight drop of 0.9%.
The “carbonated soft drink” group under the “beverages” category recorded a rise of 11% in aggregate average price last year and the highest rise is a “cream soda” product (16.9%). However, the sales of beverages related to outdoor activities, such as those under the “bottled water/energy & sports drink” group recorded a 1.7% drop that were possibly affected by various social distancing policies and the temporary closure of sports venues. Among the 5 items under this group, 3 dropped between 2% and 6.1% in average price.
Monitoring product prices and increasing market transparency are one of the major functions of the Council. Since releasing the first annual supermarket price survey in 2005, the Council has been using the scan data of major supermarket chains to analyse the price change of a basket of popular items to help consumers compare the prices of different brands and products. Among the 4 supermarket chains covered in previous annual supermarket price surveys, 1 of the supermarket groups downsized from dozens of branches to 2 only, and another group underwent system upgrade in the second half of 2019, thus only 2 supermarket chains were studied in this survey. The Council will continue to closely monitor the changes in product prices and make timely announcements of the findings to help consumers make prudent decisions.
In addition, consumers can conveniently access the Council’s “Online Price Watch” (https://online-price-watch.consumer.org.hk/opw/) on smartphones or PCs, and compare the prices of over 2,200 popular items from 6 vendors (a food store, a personal care store and 4 supermarkets). Prices are updated daily and functions such as “Unit Price”, “Top Price Differences” and “Price Drops” are provided. The lowest price trends in the last 30, 60 and 90 days are also indicated. Consumers can easily track price changes without visiting supermarkets in person.
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