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Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Cost of living: Coles receipt reveals brutal reality for Aussies

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Australians are in for a nasty surprise when they head for the supermarket, and if you have a family you’re in for even more of a shock.

The phrase on everyone’s lips this week as the government tried to woo us all with its budget was the “cost of living”, which we are all aware — unless you drive a Tesla and grow all your own vegetables — is rising at an alarming pace.

While it may not seem too stressful to some singletons to pay a few bucks more for their cucumbers, the rising cost when compounded and multiplied by having extra mouths to feed means many Australian families are copping it hard at the supermarket till.

One of those is families is mine, who strapped their tantrum-prone two-year-old to a trolley and took a trip to Coles to discover just how bad the damage was this week.

We got the wee lad in the seat of the trolley without too many issues, and he seemed pleasantly bamboozled by the bright hues of the fruit and veg as we strolled in.

Shock and awe in the fruit and veg aisle

My wife and I were also pleased to see family staples like fresh berries (two punnets for $7) and avocados (just $1.20 each!) were reasonably priced — although I swear strawberries were only about $1.50 a punnet back when people were sticking needles in them.

Supermarkets like to lure you in with these deals before the pain begins, so we were bracing for some astronomical prices in the fresh produce section.

It says a lot about how fast prices have risen that we weren’t surprised to see capsicums being flogged for an eye-watering $14.90/kg (and that was allegedly on special) and snow peas going for a ludicrous price of $22/kg as if they contained tiny diamond nuggets inside.

In what seems like an unfair tax on Italians, the price of tomatoes has risen to levels that are nightmare-inducing to caprese salad-lovers. It made me sweat and I’m 100 per cent Anglo.

A punnet of cherry tomatoes was going for $7.70, which in my eyes is unacceptable. I opted for the full-sized ones that often taste like flour but hurt the pocket less at $4.50 a pop.

Without potassium flowing through my veins I am a shell of a man, so I was also pleased to see bananas at $3/kg, even though they are 75 per cent comprised of thick skin and it wasn’t long ago they were under $2/kg.

The only really decent prices we found in the fresh produce were for carrots, at just $1.50 for a big bag — so if a nuclear war breaks out at least we can all live off those.

A highly unusual item that Coles seemed desperate to flog were jumbo 5kg “gift boxes” of dates for a handsome sum of $60 a box. So if you want to send anyone a ridiculously large box of fruit, now’s your time to show them you care.

Meat and everything else

Onto the meat, and there was nothing too alarming to report although $10.50 for a pack of lean mince seems a tad steep. When I was in uni, a packet of mince cost less than one Great British Pound — although that was in the UK so it probably contained horse meat and traces of Mad Cow Disease.

Sausages seemed only to be affordable in vast quantities and, although we enjoy our food, a 24 pack for $12 just seemed a bit over the top. Instead, we opted for a decent-sized pack of salmon which was steep at $16 — but at least it was healthy and sustainably-sourced.

Onwards we marched towards nappies and wipes which can be heart-in-mouth moment for parents. Often the size you want is out of stock or there has been an insane price increase on the brand you want.

However, to our surprise a big bag of nappies in our kid’s size was going for just $9 — which seemed like a gift from the heavens.

You could even pick up a decent-sized pack of wipes for $2, but my wife insisted they don’t wipe as well as the ones that cost twice as much so we got them instead.

It appeared on the surface that the prices of almost everything else we bought from chips, to kids snacks, sandwich fillers, bread, eggs and yoghurt was not too far away from what it was several months ago.

However, the reality of the situation dawned on us shortly after I was forced to evacuate the wee man from the pram because he wanted to go to the indoor playground.

I was trying to lure him away to the car with a pouch of yoghurt when my wife approached with news of the damage.

The receipt revealed the jaunt around Coles cost us a whopping of $364.04, which is one of our highest ever totals. That is without any toiletries or basic cupboard fillers that we already had at home.

I later found receipts in our reusable bags from last year’s shops that were in the $200-$250 range. Although my boy (and yours truly) had smaller stomachs back then — that is quite a remarkable increase in prices.

It appears although a lot is made of the big increases in prices of vegetables like $5.50 lettuces, I think we were taken aback by the little increases across a range of foodstuffs and everyday products that you would barely notice.

Why are prices increasing?

The pandemic, freight costs, recent extreme weather and now Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of – and subsequent war on – Ukraine have exacerbated short and long-term supply issues and sent food and global oil prices soaring.

“Food and grain prices are rising, which will pose challenges to lower income economies, including many in our own region,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the AFR Business Summit earlier this month in a virtual speech.

“Commodity price rises will be the most obvious transmission channel to Australia. Petrol prices in Australia have risen, like they are elsewhere.”

Ritchies IGA chief executive Fred Harrison warned last week that families could expect to pay more for fresh and frozen food in the coming weeks thanks to the combined impact of the war in Ukraine and floods in NSW and Queensland.

“Vegetables are very scarce at the moment due to the floods,” Mr Harrison told the ABC.

“So we’ve seen cabbages, potatoes and broccoli in particular jump 75 per cent compared to a couple of weeks ago.”



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