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Residents cut back on food spending as rising cost of living impacts island

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About a fifth of residents are cutting back on fresh fruits and vegetables owing to rising prices, a survey found (File image)

About a third of residents feel forced to buy less food and almost a fifth are choosing less healthy options owing to rising prices, a new survey has found.

Narrative Research Bermuda said results from its study showed that most people were “feeling the pinch”.

A spokesman explained: “Inflation, linked to the Covid-19 pandemic and global supply-chain issues, has left its mark on Bermuda over the past six months.

“As with many other countries worldwide experiencing rising price tags, the cost of food in Bermuda has been impacted as well.

“The impact of rising food prices on grocery shopping is keenly felt, with six in ten (62 per cent) residents stating that they now must budget for food more closely.

“Another four in ten (42 per cent) indicate that they must change what food they are purchasing, while one third (34 per cent) are obliged to purchase less food as a result of the higher costs.”

He added that 17 per cent of respondents said that they buy less healthy options.

The spokesman highlighted: “Most notably, only a small minority of residents (17 per cent) say that they have not had to take any of the actions previously mentioned.

“Females are more likely than males to report having to purchase less food and purchase less healthy options.”

The results were from an online study that involved 380 members of the organisation’s panel of “engaged” adult residents, who were questioned as part of the Bermuda Omnibus survey carried out between March 3 and 14.

They showed that 60 per cent of people said they were eating out less frequently and 47 per cent were switching to “cheaper, lower-quality brands”.

Narrative Research Bermuda said that 39 per cent cut back on meat while just over a fifth (21 per cent) chose to reduce their purchases of fresh fruit and vegetables.

The spokesman said: “Just under two in ten (17 per cent) have opted to cut back on alcohol.

“While not insignificant, it is perhaps positive to note that only a small proportion (2 per cent) mention having to now go to a food bank for groceries.

“With such a large proportion now indicating they are eating out less, this could further hurt local restaurants and food establishments, many of which have already experienced fewer sales throughout the pandemic.”

He added that the results showed most Bermudians were “feeling the pinch in some way” as only 11 per cent indicated that their actions were unchanged when it came to eating out, brand choice or whether to cut back on certain items.

Government schemes aim to help struggling residents

Jason Hayward, the Minister of Economy and Labour, said that the Government was aware of the impact of increasing costs across all sectors.

"Rising prices reduce the purchasing power of households,“ he said.

The minister added that the annual average inflation rate was moderate over the past five years, averaging less than 1.2 per cent.

But Mr Hayward said that global pressures negatively impacted prices on the island.

He added: “As a result, we are now seeing higher inflation rates, averaging 2.5 per cent in the first quarter.

"In response to this, the Government has offered tax reliefs, imposed a cap on fuel prices and provided relief on vehicular licences. We also continue to assist families through Financial Assistance benefits and are currently working to establish a minimum wage in Bermuda.

"We fully understand and appreciate the needs and concerns voiced by the people of this country. These unprecedented times have been particularly hard on those without the means and resources to endure.

"The Government remains committed to assessing and developing strategies to reduce some of the price pressure experienced by households."

A Ministry of Health spokeswoman said that Nutrition Services promotions encouraged people to eat fruit and vegetables in different forms, including frozen, fresh or dried.

She added: “To increase the consumption of fruit and vegetables, the Grow Eat Save community garden initiative started with the support of various volunteers and our facilitator Chaplin Kevin Santucci.

“This initiative has helped the community grow sustainable healthy fruits and vegetables that can be grown almost year-round in this subtropical climate. This can increase not only access, availability but also make eating fruits and vegetables affordable.

“If, as a country, we begin to grow our own, we can build our own reliance on self-sustainability of various food items.”

She added: “In most instances healthy food is the better value.”

The spokeswoman explained that the Grow Eat Save scheme was launched for several reasons, including survey results that showed cost was a motivating factor to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

It was found that there were limits for Bermuda businesses when they tried to offer healthy food at reduced costs.

The spokeswoman added: “Worldwide disasters mean that Bermuda is competing with the world market for the limited food sources, which now is more apparent since Covid-19.”

She said that Grow Eat Save workshops could encourage a culture of self-sustenance.

The spokeswoman added: "A diet rich in a minimum of five servings of fruits and vegetables is a controllable risk factor in fighting illness and disease.“

Major Robert Kerr, divisional commander at The Salvation Army, highlighted yesterday that visits to the charity’s food bank "increased significantly through the pandemic“.

He added: “What we aren’t seeing is a decrease in food bank visits as we come out the other side of the worst of the pandemic’s economic impact.

“Perhaps this is now due to the cost of groceries for people who are once again working but still cannot afford groceries as they could pre-pandemic.”

Major Kerr said: “We should keep in mind that those who access the services of a food bank will be the most impacted by any increase in food costs.

“They will not be among the 60 per cent who are eating out less because they already cannot afford to do so.

“They will be more likely to cut out the fresh fruits and vegetables and meats. They already had no margin in their food budgets to absorb increased costs.

“I worry about the families we serve. It is likely that parents will not be able to provide healthier foods for children. This will impact their ability to learn and develop.”

Supermarket bosses said last year that a number of factors — including the coronavirus pandemic and changing US politics — would continue to cause ripples affecting food prices.

Zach Moniz, a manager at Lindo’s Group of Companies, and William Cox, a director at Miles Market, wrote in a Letter to the Editor that the industry worked to “minimise the impacts of the increases”.

But they warned “there are many factors that we really have no control over”.

Craig Simmons, a senior lecturer in economics at Bermuda College, highlighted this week that the war in Ukraine, which started in February, was also driving food prices.

Robert Stewart, another economist, said yesterday that “in reality there is no such thing as the Bermuda economy” and instead the island is closely tied to the US economy.

He explained: “Inflation arises because the Federal Reserve in the United States creates — out of nothing — paper money, nearly all of which is totally unrelated to the productive economy.

“As an adjunct of the US economy we suffer from the loose money policies of the United States, as well as elsewhere, so there is little we can do to mitigate the adverse consequences of rising prices.

“The Fed does not care about Bermuda or other small places dependent on the giant economy of the US.

“Regrettably when things are bad the fact that we are a mouse in bed with an elephant precludes us from exercising anything resembling financial independence.

“We can tinker at the edges but that is about it.”

Mr Stewart, the author of two books on the Bermuda economy, said: “The best advice for most people is to start saving when they are young, so that when they reach middle age or old age they have a reservoir of money to maintain their living standards.”

The former teacher added that “when people are young the best investment they can make is their education”.

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Published June 14, 2022 at 8:15 am (Updated June 14, 2022 at 8:15 am)

Residents cut back on food spending as rising cost of living impacts island

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