Supermarket prices surge above rate of inflation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 April, 2013, 4:38am

Supermarket prices have risen by an average of 6.8 per cent over the past year, with eggs, infant formula and canned fish soaring above the prices of other household basics, the latest consumer watchdog survey has revealed.

The Consumer Council conducted an annual poll of the prices of 200 common household food items and daily necessities at three major supermarket chains - China Resources Vanguard, ParknShop and Wellcome. It said the average increase was much higher than that of the Composite Consumer Price Index, which rose by 4.1 per cent.

The highest average increases were seen in the prices of canned fish, which leapt 18.1 per cent; eggs, up 17.5 per cent; and milk powder, which was 17.3 per cent higher. The only decline was in alcoholic drinks, whose prices fell 5 per cent.

But by far the biggest price increase was that of infant formula Wyeth Progress Gold No2, which skyrocketed 40.4 per cent from HK$182.2 to HK$255.8 over the year.

Gilly Wong Fung-han, the council's chief executive, said she could not rule out the price surge being the result of tight supply and high demand for milk powder in the city.

In March, the government limited baby formula exports to two cans per person in response to a mounting public outcry over bulk purchases by parallel traders that caused a severe shortage of formula in the city.

Academics said runaway food prices were "not surprising", as the appreciation of the yuan made food imports more expensive and in an environment of higher inflation in general.

Billy Mak, an associate professor in Baptist University's department of finance and decision sciences, said Hong Kong's supermarket chains may have increased their pricing power, to the detriment of consumers.

But he emphasised that in-depth research was required to determine the extent of their control over prices.

Professor Hui King-man, chairman of the Consumer Council's publicity and community relations committee, said retailers should maintain reasonable prices to help the public cope with inflation.

Consumers were also advised to shop around at different retail outlets and to compare prices across brands.

ParknShop said price increases on most of its products were below the market levels, and that it had borne some of the higher costs in lower margins. The chain has rolled out a series of discounts.

Rival chain Wellcome said price increases could be attributed to a range of factors, including an unstable economic outlook, yuan appreciation and the soaring price of raw materials.