For millions of people, grocery shopping is about to get tougher. Food inflation is rising, up a record 1 per cent in July, and a further 0.1 per cent last month, fuelled by soaring wheat prices.
Wheat has leapt 50 per cent since May as a result of freak weather in Russia and growing demand from China, India and Brazil. Because grain is fed to animals, meat prices have jumped too, by 16 per cent this year, to their highest level for 20 years. Instant and ground coffee will rise later this year as a result of poor harvests in Vietnam and Central America.
Household budgets are being squeezed elsewhere: petrol is almost 120p a litre and fuel prices are on the up, following EDF's 2.6 per cent hike on electricity last month. The Bank of England base rate looks unlikely to remain at historic low 0.5 per cent next year, as these food, petrol and energy rises feed into the system, pushing up the cost of mortgages. Attempts to cut the UK's £155bn budget deficit by 2015 could lead to the loss of 600,000 public jobs, creating further instability. All this means household finances are likely to be under strain for some time.
One of the areas people can save money is food, while at the same time eating a better diet. How so? Because many households have got used to stacking their trolleys with whatever takes their fancy. Fair enough if you have the money. But if you do need to economise there are ways of doing so without loading up on value fishfingers and beans. The average employed household spends £245 a month on food and non-alcoholic drinks. By shopping more carefully and cooking a little more, you can probably knock off £50.
You would not know from looking at supermarket apples in March and strawberries in December, but food is highly seasonal, and seasonal produce is more plentiful, fresher and cheaper: which is why you find half-price deals for British strawberries in June. The website Eattheseasons.co.uk shows what's in season through the year. This month look out for artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, blackberries, pears and plums.
Visit the market
Markets are by far the cheapest place to buy fruit and vegetables. They tend to be a little uglier than the beauty pageant fare on display in shops, but are more likely to be seasonal, cheap – and ripe. In one of several such exercises, The Mirror bought 17 staples – including eggs, bread, beans, meat and veg – and discovered they cost £38.37 in a market and £43.65 in a supermarket.
Avoid processed food
Britain consumes more ready meals than any other European country, and it costs. Make rather than buy soups and lasagnes and avoid unnecessary convenience products such as packs of grated cheese and readymade roasts.
Own-brand products cost less than branded goods. With brands, you're paying for the advertising to laud their quality and distinctiveness. Try the own-brand version and return to brands if you can tell the difference. If you can afford to, steer clear of value lines: they're usually loaded with salt and fat.
Buy one get one free (Bogof) is not a bargain if the discounted item has been inflated before the promotion, or you don't need the "free" item. Don't assume larger packets will be proportionately cheaper; often they're not. Check the price comparison per 100g.
Shelves at eye-level tend to be stacked with premium ranges and "impulse" buys. Instead, scan lower shelves where the bargains lurk.
Finally, if you have plenty of money, don't bother with these tips. As a nation we spend relatively little on food – 9 per cent of income. We're lucky to have abundance and food is there to be enjoyed. But if you are in a tight spot, these tips may help.
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