After rising month after month, supermarket inflation in Belgium has peaked with an average household now paying on average one-fifth more for groceries than a year ago.
For the past three months, the inflation of supermarket products has hovered around 19.5%, but in March, it rose to 20.6% for the first time – an absolute record. Consumer organisation Test Achats, published on Tuesday their research conducted on 3,000 products from seven supermarket chains.
"Due to the further increase in inflation, an average family of two now spends €521 per month in the supermarket. That is €89 more than a year ago," Laura Clays, spokesperson for the organisation, noted, adding that expensive food prices are outweighing declining energy prices and resulting in inflation rising again after months of decline.
The organisation has been monitoring the evolution of prices in supermarkets to measure food inflation every month for the past year.
Hike driven by vegetables
Last month, frozen fries underwent the strongest price increase (51%), followed by cauliflower (49%), tomato paste (46%), roast chicken (44%), and cucumber (44%). This month, expensive vegetables stand out in particular, Test Achats said.
"These were on average 31% more expensive in March 2023 than in March 2022. And if potatoes are not included, inflation for vegetables is as high as 40%," the organisation explained.
The top three products that have increased the most in the past year are iceberg lettuce, which is now 53% more expensive than last year, cucumber (+51%) and onions (+50%).
Dairy products are also a main driver of the rising inflation (+26%), with exceptional peaks for Gouda cheese (+42%), cream (+33%) and semi-skimmed milk (+29%). Bread is 24% more expensive than a year ago.
Aside from fresh produce, paper products such as tissues, toilet paper and paper towels are on average 39% more expensive than in March last year. "And even then inflation for that product category was already higher than normal (11%)."
Calling on government action
The organisation repeated that it regrets the tax reform proposal announced by Finance Minister Vincent Van Peteghem early last month, which includes an increase in VAT on dairy products from 6% to 9%.
"For fruit and vegetables, however, a possibility of reducing VAT to 0% has been found. So we hope that a — at least temporary — retention of 6% for dairy and also bread can be discussed. Our results clearly show that precisely those categories of basic products have been hit hard by rising prices," said Clays.
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Test Achats is also once again calling on the Federal Government to freeze prices on certain products over a limited amount of time, as was done in France, where the "anti-inflation basket" including some essentials ensures that consumers "will not run into trouble."
Some supermarket chains, such as Carrefour, have taken the decision independently to not increase the price of certain essential products.