Monday, May 08, 2023

Olivia Kelleher

Unverified reports of price gouging will be presented to the supermarket industry at a special meeting of the Retail Forum on Wednesday, according to the Minister of State with responsibility for retail, Neale Richmond.

Mr Richmond said the meeting is being convened specifically to discuss inflation in the grocery sector and “the very considerable worrying concerns that are coming in to all of our offices as TD’s every day about the price of the weekly shop.”

Mr Richmond told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that while the Government had the ability to introduce price caps they did not want to go down that road.

“It [price caps] is not something that is done lightly or considered lightly. I very much hope that we are not in a position of going anywhere near them.

“We are reminding them [attendees at the meeting] of the powers the Government has. This isn’t about threats. This isn’t about implementing something without real consideration.

“This is about Government clearly working with the retailers, with the food producers, with the Consumer Advocacy bodies and the experts to make sure that the costs that consumers pay in the supermarket are reasonable and realistic.

“We fully expect to see prices coming down. We can get prices down. Particular on the staple necessary goods. The private sector has to step up to the plate on this.”

Mr Richmond voiced concern about the fact that food prices have increased way beyond general inflation.

“Grocery inflation is running at about 16.3 per cent. That’s way ahead of general inflation which peaked at nine percent, has come down to about 7 percent will go down to about four and half percent.

“We haven’t seen grocery prices come down until last week at the supposed stroke of a pen when we saw butter and milk prices come down in a number of the large supermarkets.

“We certainly received a number of reports [of price gouging]. Some of them still have to be verified. But we will be presenting them [at the meeting].

“There is evidence across the EU of inflation having a very serious impact on the grocery shop and we are seeing in other countries commitments from the grocery sector to bringing down the price.

“France for example convened their version of the Retail Forum and there was a commitment from all of their large supermarkets to have the prices brought down between April and June whereas other EU countries like Hungary and Croatia did have to revert to price caps.”

Mr Richmond said following the Wednesday meeting the Retail Forum will reconvene again on June 21st next.

“We expect to see prices come down by that stage. Yes, we appreciate there is always a delay between prices coming down and inflation dropping. But we have been waiting some weeks and months since we have seen inflation peak and start to come down, but we haven’t seen those price cuts across staple goods in supermarkets before last week.

“We understand obviously that there is still responsibilities in terms of the higher energy costs where Government has stood in to help the retailers. But there is a lot more that retailers and the food distribution companies can do we believe to help bring down the cost to consumers whilst maintaining a fair price for farmers across the country.

“So we look forward to a really open but frank discussion on Wednesday about this. We are going to give the retailers the fair chance to put in to action those reductions.”

Mr Richmond said introducing price caps was not an “ideal path or course.”

“We really don’t want to bring in price caps. We saw it brought in in Hungary but they are running at inflation of 50 per cent. Croatia at 20 per cent. It does have a series of unintended consequences. It is not an ideal path or course.

“We have reminded retailers that it is something that is open to the Government under the 2007 Consumer Protection Act. I think what we will have the opportunity on Wednesday is to have that long and lengthy but frank discussion to work through, and I fundamentally hope we will be leaving with that commitment from supermarkets to bring down the cost to a reasonable level that consumers should be able to expect.”

The Retail Forum is made up of representatives of the entire retail industry, including the grocery sector. It includes representative bodies such as Retail Ireland, Retail Excellence Ireland, RGDATA and some of the multiples such as Tesco, Musgraves and Eason.

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