Food for Thought: Exploring South Africa’s Dip in Food Inflation.

Great news for South African households! The country’s food inflation has slowed down; now let’s talk about it.

Understanding the shift

South Africa’s consumer food inflation slowed by 0.5% in April 2024 (dropping from 4.9% in March to 4.4% in April). Let us first start by unpacking what this drop in household food inflation really means. In simple terms, this drop indicates a slower increase in food prices. From the farm right down to your table, the cost of our essential groceries isn’t climbing as steeply as it once was.

Behind this shift are a multitude of factors that could be at play. Improved weather conditions, increased agricultural productivity, and shifts in global commodity prices might have played a role in alleviating some of the financial pressure on South African households. Sihlobo (2024) mentioned that the dip may have been supported by the decrease across most food products, with the exception of fruit and vegetables, which had a mild lift from last month. The increase in fruit and vegetables is mostly the result of base effects, but since most products are in abundant supply, these increases should stay moderate.

On the other hand, however, the domestic maize harvest of the 2023–2024 marketing year has gone down by approximately 25%, resulting in price increases. This is mainly due to the midsummer drought of the El Niño phenomenon. This had negative effects on our maize in the months of February and March, and it is for this reason that the maize harvest of the current production year (2024-2025) is projected to decline by 19%. Some may even attribute the increase in maize prices to a surge in import demand, as well as logistical constraints resulting from infrastructure damage in Ukraine and reduced production prospects in Brazil ahead of the main harvest.

It is worth remembering that at the end of 2023, there were a few constraints in meat supply due to the avian influenza; however, there is notable evidence that the restocking process is underway and there is a lot of improvement on the supply side of the poultry industry in the country. In contrast, while the local poultry industry shows signs of improvement, the global poultry industry grapples with price hikes due to a persistent influenza outbreak in other parts of the world.  Furthermore, due to the increase in global supplies, the prices of rice and vegetable oil the country imports continue to decrease.

Implications for everyday life

But what does this mean for you and me, the everyday consumers navigating the aisles of our local supermarkets? Well, for starters, it means a bit of relief for our wallets. With food prices rising at a slower pace, we have a bit more breathing room in our monthly budgets.

This drop in food inflation isn’t just about saving a few rands at the checkout counter; it has broader implications for our economy as a whole. Although projections suggest that South Africa’s food inflation is likely to fluctuate in the upcoming months, we need to savour this moment of reprieve from soaring food prices!

Source: Stats SA and Agbiz Research