Amid all the other pressures in the economy, food inflation has been the one relatively happy place the past year.
In its results this week, Shoprite reported that its prices only went up by 0.4% in the six months to end-December.
Woolworths said its food prices only increased by 1.2% in the same period, while Spar food price rose by only 1.4% - and the retailer says prices continue to fall across a wide range of grocery and perishable items.
In December, some 10,719 items in Shoprite and Checkers stores were cheaper than a year before.
The most notable price drops were among basic commodities such as frozen chicken portions, sunflower oil, rice, fat spreads and UHT milk across all our supermarket brands, a spokesperson told Business Insider SA.
However, the food price party could be drawing to a close.
In September last year, more than 11,600 items at Shoprite and Checkers were cheaper than a year ago, indicating that prices of almost 1,000 products have stabilised by December.
Shoprite itself is warning that prices will start to pick up. "The price of maize meal has already started increasing, which in turn will impact the cost of chicken feed," the spokesperson said.
At the height of South Africa's extreme drought in 2016, the white maize price reached R5,000 a tonne - which pushed up food inflation to more than 7%. However, following good rains in many parts of the country, the maize price fell to below R2,000 a tonne. Of late, however, the maize price is back around R3,000 amid renewed drought concerns.
"(Also), the price of sugar has traditionally over the past years increased in the first quarter of the year and we expect this increase to still be implemented," Shoprite said. "Other categories to be affected will depend on factors such as inflated supplier prices, exchange rates, etc."
Comparing prices at Shoprite and Checkers now, versus a year ago, there is little evidence of price pressures, however.
For now, the price of Huletts white sugar (2.5kg) remains unchanged at R34.99 from a year ago, at Shoprite.
The price of Ace Super Maize Meal (10kg) has actually fallen to R48.99, from a year ago (R52.88). A coffee brand like Frisco (750g) is also cheaper now (R54.99) than a year ago (R59.99). At Checkers, prices were also largely in line with twelve months ago, with some products like Sir Fruit juice falling from R29.99 to R25.99
The only big increase we could find was in sunflower oil, with the Helios brand (5 litre) up from R74.99 a year ago to R79.99
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