Smart shopping strategies for rising food prices

Apart from that amazing Springbok victory at the Rugby World Cup, 2023 was a rough year for South Africans. We continued to struggle to create jobs, opportunities, and increased productivity, while rising food costs had the biggest impact on most of our budgets. Food price inflation increased by large amounts for most of 2023, before stabilising towards the end of the year.

What are the causes of rising food prices, and how can you combat the growing cost of your grocery basket while keeping your family healthy?


What’s behind food inflation?

Early in 2023, consumer price index (CPI) data showed the highest rise in food inflation in South Africa since 2009, following the 2008 global economic crisis caused by the failure of several US banks and property lenders. In 2023, prices were up by 14.4% year on year. Fortunately, inflation rates have now eased and are only slightly above the CPI headline inflation rate.  

The upsurge in prices was a phenomenon worldwide. First, it was fuelled by the Covid pandemic and its impact on global shipping and supply. Then, as food inflation began to slow down, Russia invaded Ukraine, which accounts for at least 10% of the world’s wheat supply, 15% of its maize, and around 50% of its sunflower oil. In response, sanctions against Russia caused massive surges in the price of crude oil and gas, which in turn threatened food transport costs and even food security itself. Global food inflation reaccelerated in 2022 as a result.


Understanding South Africa’s food inflation

South Africa’s food inflation trends continued to rise in 2023, even as global inflation on food commodities eased. This was due to several other factors:

  • The rand has weakened significantly against the US dollar, which means that most domestic agricultural food prices have remained high. Even when international prices for fuel, fertiliser and other agricultural requirements softened, the decreasing value of the rand cancelled those gains, and food inflation remained on an upward trend.

  • Load-shedding almost daily for most of 2023 disrupted food production and increased costs significantly. Retailers could no longer sustain the high costs of wastage, diesel generators to keep fridges running, or installing solar power alternatives, without passing these costs on to the consumer.

Online shopping makes it much easier to compare prices and find the store that will cost you less

  • The South African food logistics supply chain has deteriorated, with our ports and rail infrastructure hampered by enormous maintenance backlogs and supply chain bottlenecks. This has led to compromises in crop irrigation and food storage, and the reduction of export capacity.

All these factors have led to price increases, and they’re all partly to blame for your shopping trolley costing more every month.  


Healthy eating on a tight budget

Steeply rising food prices have dealt another blow to families already struggling to make ends meet. It’s getting harder to provide healthy meals for your loved ones. According to the Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy, an NGO that studies food security, households with 2 breadwinners earning minimum wage are spending as much as 31% of their income on food.

Here are some ways to spend less on grocery shopping while providing your family with healthy meals:

Buy in bulk with friends, neighbours or colleagues

You could pool your money with those in your social circle who are facing similar belt-tightening and bulk-buy household essentials and non-perishable foods at retailers that offer good discounts on bulk sales. You can then distribute them according to each group member’s needs, and you’ll pay only for your share of the total. You’ll get the benefit of a lower price per unit, without having to find space for everything in your cupboards (or the budget for a 6-month supply of baked beans) all on your own.


Explore canned food

If you choose healthy canned food options, there’s almost no nutritional difference between them and fresh foods. It can be more cost-effective to use your food budget to buy canned goods that last longer than fresh produce.


Plan and prep meals weekly

Making time to cook food from scratch can be difficult to fit into a hectic work and family schedule. However, if you plan a weekly menu and set aside a few hours one day a week to do meal preparation, it’s easier to find the time to cook every day. Preparing meals at home is cheaper – and usually healthier – than buying pre-cooked food or takeaways.


Compare baskets using online shopping

There can be big price differences for similar foods at different grocery stores, and different retail chains will offer their own range of specials every week. Online shopping makes it much easier to compare prices and find the store that will cost you less.  


Tech tools to make grocery shopping more affordable

To tackle your food spending while providing balanced, nutritious meals, first create a proper household budget. Use it to track your income and expenses, and to plan shopping lists so that you don’t overspend when grocery shopping. Nedbank’s MoneyTracker on the Money app is designed for exactly this purpose.

If you want to compare prices between different retailers, choose the most affordable option for each item on your shopping list, and then have all your grocery shopping delivered to your door in one order, you can do all that on Avo SuperShop.