As food prices rise, DAB lends us a hand

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 05 May, 2008, 12:00am

Keeping tabs on rising food prices in times of surging inflation is quite a challenge. We have no day-by-day benchmarks to guide us as to what to expect next time we go shopping. With two supermarket chains dominating the sector and their prices differing from store to store, keeping bills down can be time-consuming and frustrating.

We are especially vulnerable with so much uncertainty about our current food supply and the cost of oil. Just how much more a shop has to pay for a particular item - given rising transport costs and the extent of crops for food being displaced by biofuels - we can only guess. A large increase may in such circumstances be justified.

A recent Consumer Council survey told another side of the story. It revealed that our main supermarkets were charging substantially more for a number of items than smaller counterparts such as family-run grocery shops and convenience stores. Logic says that, with the big chains supposedly having strong buying power, they should be able to pass on substantial savings to consumers.

Free markets dictate that retailers can charge what they like, and it is up to us to shop around for the best deals. Nonetheless, with so much strain being put on the household budgets of those in the community who are not so well off, retailers should not take advantage of the economic climate to raise prices unreasonably. This should be especially so for the big chains, which have wiped out competitors and left us with fewer shopping options.

In the name of honesty, it is therefore good that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong will, from Wednesday, monitor prices at the two main supermarket chains. Its members will compare prices and post them on the internet, helping us find fair shopping deals. This is a good example of how political parties can win support by addressing grass-roots livelihood issues.

This will save us time and effort. It may even save us money. A clear message will be sent out to our biggest grocery retailers that they must not take advantage of their position. Let us hope these efforts bear fruit quickly, and an extension of the three-month pilot scheme to other parts of the grocery sector will not be necessary.