Going to the supermarket is no longer a fun, social outing for the family. It was traditionally the place where the children tag along and are enlightened about the products purchased for the household each week or month, the brands, prices, and how we determine what goes into the grocery basket and what is left on the shelf.
Today, supermarket trips are reminders of just how much of our disposable income is being spent on food and goods required to keep a household running. There are some among us who enjoy the luxury of being unrestricted in what they place in their trolleys. That group, however, is small.
For weekly wage workers, the struggle is real. When one factors in the cost of public transportation, the demand on wages is challenging.
We are mindful that as a country which imports most of what it consumes, we are at the mercy of international manufacturers and suppliers.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, global food production has been impacted by supply constraints on the inputs needed for the production processes such as animal feeds, fertilisers, mechanical equipment, and even workers.
A recent Cable News Network (CNN) report reminds us that consumer pains are universal, though to different degrees.
Americans, it contended, were feeling more pessimistic about the economy last month, following two straight months of growing confidence.
“August’s disappointing headline number reflected dips in both the current conditions and expectations indexes. Write-in responses showed that consumers were once again preoccupied with rising prices in general, and for groceries and gasoline in particular.
“Gas prices have risen in recent weeks and student loan repayments resume in October, which could also weigh on American consumers’ moods,” the report noted.
Inflation was responsible for Americans’ reduced spending in recent and this cautious spending is expected to continue for the rest of the year.
Here at home, the government and private sector sought to create a unique, home-grown response to rising prices by establishing a compact that would contain the prices of some basic food items, many of which were locally and regionally produced.
While many consumers were grateful for the reductions, others complained it did not go far enough to make a real impact on their food bills.
The administration also used its clout last August to effect a reduction in value added tax (VAT) on electricity bills on the first 250 kilowatt hours of usage. The VAT charged was cut from 17.5 percent to 7.5 percent.
With no confirmation on how long the VAT reduction will remain in place and the possibility of a rate increase being granted by the Fair Trading Commission to Barbados Light & Power (BL&P) looming, electricity bills could become a real bugbear in the latter part of the year when bills tend to rise due to increased power usage in the lead-up to the Christmas holiday season.
With the prices compact essentially at an end, with some high profile participants such as the West Indian Biscuit Company (WIBISCO) pulling out early, consumers began feeling the increases at the cash registers.
President of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) James Clarke claimed the prices agreement was placing too much pressure on retailers and producers who had signed on to it.
“The compact was really a short-term measure. But the truth is that the impact on businesses varied and was mostly a negative impact. They continued to take a hit, and it wasn’t sustainable,” Mr Clarke contended.
We agree with the BCCI president that the University of the West Indies needs to undertake a comprehensive study on why prices in this country are so high.
“It can’t be just for a couple of distributors to drop their margins at a period in time, or for the Government to pull a few duties off this item or that item. We have to study the full cost of our supply chain in and out of the country,” was Mr Clarke’s suggestion.
Our issue with the suggestion is while the grass is growing the horse is literally starving. We need action to stem the rate of inflation in Barbados and we need it now.