Consumers complain of local shops hiking prices for food essentials

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One positive of the coronavirus, if there are any at all, is an increase in residents turning to their local grocers and corner shops for their grocery needs and to support the small businesses during the current crisis. 

However, disappointed shoppers have reported that local grocers have been putting their prices up for food items like rice, cooking oil, meat, onions, sugar, spices and flour - a move commonly known as 'price gouging'.

Some people even said that despite their efforts to help the small shops cope during this climate they felt ‘cheated’ and ‘exploited’, and a number of stores have been widely named on social media. 

Jan from Paston shared her experience with Peterborough Matters. She said: “I am subject to several health issues: asthma, cardiovascular disease and an auto-immune condition. I have limited mobility. I have coped in this current crisis by accessing online deliveries and friends have helped. I have a supportive daughter who lives in our city.  

“I was, however, amazed to have to pay £8 for a medium-sized chicken from a local butcher when I was hoping to cook a healing soup for the neighbourhood. That chicken would normally cost £3.50. The salesperson on the end of the phone explained that demand was high.” 

Mohammed Sayeed and his family run a takeaway on Lincoln Road. He shared: “I did notice the prices have gone up for meat and chicken, otherwise I wouldn’t have paid almost £30 for two kgs of meat! When I questioned one of the sellers, he said, it’s not them but their suppliers who are putting the prices up. 

“Not just that, I even saw some of the small, local shops selling hand sanitizers for £4. People are being exploited.” 

People have also noticed a significant rise in prices for rice at the shops on Gladstone Street. Normally you can get 10kgs of rice for an average price of £16-£18, and a 25 kg bag of rice for an average of £25-£28 at these shops.

However, people have said, they have had to shell out about £25 for the 10 kgs bag this week. Wheat flour prices have also seen a hike. You can get a 10Kg bag for an average of £11-12, however some shops are selling the same bag for £17. 

Some people also said the price lists for meat and chicken have been either removed or covered up for the consumer. 

Seema Malik said: “Just last week I experienced this when I went to a certain grocery halal store to buy onions and they priced a small regular size bag for £4 , the shop keeper explained the prices have gone up everywhere now, so I said I’ll buy it elsewhere because I knew I could get onions cheaper, so then I went to another grocery store to find the same bag and size onions for £2.50 which is almost the normal price.

"It just shows that not necessarily the prices have gone up, the shop keepers are choosing to take advantage and put the price up. Also, I’ve found shops covering the original prices of meat and chicken.” 

‘There’s high demand and low supply’ that’s the answer consumers are getting from their local shop owners. 

We spoke to one retailer on Gladstone Street, who said his shop shelves have never been so empty as people have been stocking up: "There is going to be scarcity of meat and chicken in the coming weeks, the supplies are getting low and the demand is very high."

He also added, "Asian families are worried about what kind of stock will be available next month. Ramadan, the holy month of fasting begins on April 23 and people have been stocking up on basics like rice, oil and spices in preparation for it.  

"The consumers would normally do it every year - get all the ingredients beforehand. Pre-Ramadan and Ramadan is usually a busy season for trading for supermarkets like us. They fear the lockdown measures could get more stringent in the coming days and therefore people have been getting whatever essentials they can."

One retailer that sells halal meat and basic groceries like vegetables, spices, rice and other cooking ingredients in Netherton, announced on Wednesday that it’s closing for at least the next four weeks. They had a significant rise in customers getting their last-minute groceries before the shop shut. 

This could further put the demand up in other stores selling halal meat and chicken. 

The Competition and Markets Authority recently said it will use its powers against against retailers in the food and drink sector that are “seeking to capitalise on the current situation by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential goods”. Another option is to get in touch with Trading Standards.

To keep stocks on shelves for their customers, taking inspiration from the bigger supermarket chains, some retailers on Lincoln Road and Gladstone Street are also exercising rationing to stop the panic buying. 

Although, not all small shops are raising their prices. Some are advertising to let people know they have the same rates and have also started deliveries to help vulnerable families.