Gasp! My grocery bill is how much?!

If you’ve been shocked by the cost of your groceries recently, you’re not alone. A few essential items now cost an ‘arm and a leg’, and South Africans are having to make difficult decisions about their already strained budgets.

Do you go for cheaper washing powder, or try to find a more budget-friendly feminine hygiene product? (Let’s face it, even with the 0% VAT, sanitary pads cost a fortune!) How do you make sure your family’s needs are still met?

Research by the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice & Dignity Group (PMBEJD) shows that the cost of the average Household Food Basket has increased by R57,85 between July and August. This brings the total cost of an average basket to R3 470,99.

With thousands having lost their jobs, or received a pay reduction during the Covid-19 pandemic, this increase in essential goods is the last thing South Africans need.

Even when we try to adapt, and ‘buy cheaper’, there’s a price to pay.

Choosing cheaper brands carries varying risks depending on what the food is. Here’s why:

“Women consider a myriad of factors when choosing the food that gets put into the trolley,” says Mervyn Abrahams, Programme Coordinator at PMBEJD. “Moving to cheaper brands is not that simple.”

Core staple foods carry the highest risk because:

  • The money outlay on these foods is proportionally very high. If the cheap brand turns out to be poor quality then there is no more money to replace it.
  • These foods form the basis of most meals – and if the taste is too different then children will complain and mothers will feel shame
  • Cheaper staples often take a lot longer to cook – this uses more electricity and “steals” women’s time and money, whilst aggravating hungry children. All South African staple food must be cooked
  • Some core staple foods such as maize meal are fortified, women know this, and worry that the cheaper brand of maize meal is cheap for a reason, and that their children’s already compromised nutrition may be compromised further.

Here are the specific complaints about buying cheaper brands (as identified in the PMBEJD study)

  • Sugar is sugar is sugar? No, it is not: cheaper brands are not as sweet, instead of putting one spoon of sugar in your tea, you now have to put two or three in; and therefore, the sugar does not last as long.
  • Cheaper oils: some of these oils smell and change the taste of food, are greasy, made of unhealthy inputs, and go rancid faster.
  • Cheaper flours: some of these flours do not rise properly.
  • Cheaper maize meal: Women suspect some are not fortified, take longer to cook, are wetter, taste different, change colour (yellow and orange), burn, go off faster, do not cook as much volume, and therefore run out faster.
  • Cheaper rice: do not fluff up nicely, take longer to cook, taste different and burn, and don’t last as long.
  • Sugar beans taste different and take longer to cook.

“When tallying up the negative consequences it is often cheaper just to stick with the known and preferred brand,” says Abrahams.

“However, we are seeing greater shifts towards cheaper brands as a survival strategy because women whilst able to work through the obstacles that the cheaper brands bring; are not able to work through the fact that there is too little money available. Women tell us that they will switch back to their preferred brand ‘as soon as they get back on their feet.’”

Read the article here:

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