Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Customers struggling with price increases

More at the register, less in the cart

Bags of flour on the shelf in a Port of Spain supermarket last week. —Photo: ROBERT TAYLOR


CONSUMERS are seeing their grocery bills climb higher and higher. Although they have not been returned to the Value Added Tax list, items such as laundry detergent, toothpaste, macaroni, baby formula, cheese, cooking margarine, flour, toilet paper and, in some groceries, even powdered milk now cost more.

Chicken prices are also set to increase at the supermarket level, given one producer's decision to increase prices effective July 3.

Consumers say they have resorted to buying cheaper brands, “shopping around” for cheaper prices or doing without some basic necessities.

“Everything went up! I get deals on things that are almost expired. I do without or select cheaper brands and realised I should've done without or used a substitute all together,” one shopper said last week.

“The real question is what didn't go up?” another pointed out last week.

“The basics definitely did—milk, rice, butter, flour, eggs and other household items... detergents and cleaning agents. I walked out of the grocery with three bags and a bottle of water and spent upwards of $500. And that was only because the Clorox and Breeze doesn't go with food so those two were in a separate bag. That wasn't groceries, mind you, that's just top-up items,” she lamented.

“All toiletries went up—the toilet paper, the napkins, the soap, the laundry detergent, the fabric softener, the disinfectant too. I think absolutely everything went up, yes!” yet another observed.

Express Business conducted checks recently and compared the prices of basic, zero-rated items from June last year to the beginning of this month.

Whereas a 454g piece of cheddar cheese was $17.53 in June last year, a same size piece of cheese now costs $20.45. A 900g pack of Breeze soap powder was $26.99 in June last year, now costs as much as $33 in some supermarkets.

A 900g tin of Lactogen new-born formula was roughly around $100 in June 2016, but now costs $109.

A 400g pack of macaroni jumped from $4.85 in June last year to $5.65.

Chicken prices increase

Marketing manager at Arawak Ltd Robin Phillips told Express Business that due to rising input costs and challenges to access foreign exchange for raw materials, the company was forced to again raise chicken prices.

Phillips explained that most of Arawak's grains to feed chickens are imported from the United States.

The cost of grains impacts chicken prices, he noted. “According to the product we have increased prices by between two and four per cent. The main reason is that we continue to have challenges with our input costs. Given what is going on with the foreign exchange situation, that impacts on everything, including raw material,” he said.

“Local suppliers also increased their prices because they have similar challenges,” Phillips added.

Supermarkets: We can't absorb increases

In April, Massy Distribution informed supermarkets of a 5.44 per cent increase while earlier this year, Unilever Caribbean Ltd also increased prices. Massy distributes international brands like Colgate, Bounty, Charmin, Ensure, Pringles and Nature Valley, while Unilever manufacturers and distributes a range of personal care, home care and food items such as Breeze detergent, Lux soap, Golden Ray cooking margarine, Flora and Blue Band products and Lipton tea. Chief executive officer of Arima-based Hearty Foods Supermarket Ishwar Maharaj said last week he was left with no choice but to pass on increases to customers given the higher costs coming from manufacturers and distributors. “Anything with a strong imported base you will find that has

Massy distributes international brands like Colgate, Bounty, Charmin, Ensure, Pringles and Nature Valley, while Unilever manufacturers and distributes a range of personal care, home care and food items such as Breeze detergent, Lux soap, Golden Ray cooking margarine, Flora and Blue Band products and Lipton tea. Chief executive officer of Arima-based Hearty Foods Supermarket Ishwar Maharaj said last week he was left with no choice but to pass on increases to customers given the higher costs coming from manufacturers and distributors. “Anything with a strong imported base you will find that has

Chief executive officer of Arima-based Hearty Foods Supermarket Ishwar Maharaj said last week he was left with no choice but to pass on increases to customers given the higher costs coming from manufacturers and distributors. “Anything with a strong imported base you will find that has

“Anything with a strong imported base you will find that has increased, because people cannot get foreign exchange. Mostly stuff that has been imported is causing the problem. New Zealand Cheese, that has gone up. There are a lot of items that will go up because people can't get US dollars,” he stressed. Maharaj said given the foreign exchange challenges and

Maharaj said given the foreign exchange challenges and high cost of importing goods, he was considering whether it even made sense to bring in certain products, such as sardines.

But Xtra Foods' marketing manager Daniel Austin said the supermarket has taken its customers into consideration and has absorbed, in part, higher prices from manufacturers.

“We have seen increases in novelty items, skin care products, detergents,” he said.

“Massy sent us its increase, however, we have not executed them yet. It's a lot of products. This is the second increase within a two-month period,” Austin confirmed.

He went on: “We don't import, however one or two of our suppliers told us that they are no longer going to bring certain products that are slow in demand.”

“One of the products that had a high demand but that will no longer be on shelves is the blue block (laundry whitener). It's just not profitable to import.”

TTMA not aware of increases

Contacted last week, President of the Trinidad and Tobago Manufacturers' Association Christopher Alcazar said the association was not aware of any recent price increases by manufacturers.

Alcazar, who is also chief executive officer of VEMCO Ltd, confirmed that his company “has not increased any prices recently”.

VEMCO manufacturers the Swiss brand of products such as ketchup, mustard, peanut butter and pasta.

It also carries over 40 international brands of food, beverage, dog food, wine and spirits.