Garlic and ginger prices have been surging amid a shortage of supply in South Africa. (Image: Getty)
  • Garlic and ginger prices have gone up significantly in South Africa, over a short period of time.
  • Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Shoprite and Spar are now part of a probe by the National Consumer Commission.
  • If found to be in contravention, the retailers could be slapped with a R1 million fine or 10% of their annual turnover.
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SA’s consumer watchdog, the National Consumer Commission (NCC), is now investigating seven major food retailers for possible price-gouging on both ginger and garlic.

The commission said on Wednesday it is investigating the group: Woolworths, Pick n Pay, Shoprite, Spar, Food Lover's Market, Cambridge Foods, and Boxers Superstores.

Between them, those chains represent a vast proportion of South Africa's retail food trade, but it is not necessary restricting its investigation to just those stores, the NCC said.

If any were found to be price-gouging – which is defined as imposing unreasonable increases that do not correlate with an increase in cost – they would be in contravention of consumer protection rules. Penalties may include a fine of up to R1 million, or 10% of annual turnover. 

Last month Business Insider South Africa reported that a surge in demand for ginger – seemingly driven by the prohibition on alcohol that was just rescinded, had caused a shortage of the root, with its price more than doubling in the space of months.

See also | Ginger prices have doubled in months as demand soars amid the pandemic

But the price increase was evident before ginger got to consumers. Wholesale ginger, in a 10 kilogram box, cost an average of R200 per kilogram, according to Joburg Market 

In stores, prices hovered at around R350 per kilogram.

At the time, Food Lover's Market warned that prices could increase further, with demand and supply out of synch.

The NCC said its investigation was triggered by a public outcry.

It urged consumers across the country “to monitor the market" and file complaints about excessive prices.

(Compiled by Ntando Thukwana)

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