Food prices rose at the highest rate for nearly six years in March, data showed on Tuesday, as increased commodity prices and adverse weather took their toll.
The British Retail Consortium said overall shop price inflation in March was 0.9%, up from 0.7% in February and the highest rate since March 2013.

The jump was driven by a spike in food inflation, which was up 2.5% in March against February's 1.6% and the biggest increase since November 2013. Fresh food prices were ahead 1.9%, while prices of ambient food rose 3.4%, a significant jump on February's 1.5%.

The BRC said that last year's erratic weather, including the so-called Beast from the East and then the prolonged summer heatwave, last year meant that many UK crops, such as onions, potatoes and cabbages, had lower yields than normal. “As a result, these products are seeing now significant price increases,” it added. Rises in global cereal prices, meanwhile, pushed up the price of breads and other cereal-based products.

Non-food prices remained at the same level as March 2018.

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC, said: “Increases in global commodity prices and adverse weather events put upward pressures on the wholesale prices of many foodstuffs which, coupled with rises in the cost of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, pushed food inflation to 2.5%.”

Mike Watkins, head of retailer and business insight at Nielsen, which complies the Shop Price Index with the BRC, said: “With shoppers looking to stretch their budget for the weekly grocery shop this will not help volume growth, which has been slowing since the start of the year.

“For many high street fashion, home and outdoor retailers, prices are not increasing, so good news for shoppers as the end of season ranges sell through.”

Clive Black, analyst at Shore Capital, said: “The BRC-Nielsen account for the step up in food prices from adverse weather conditions and increases in global soft commodity prices. We find this latter point quite interesting as the global data on plantings, never mind harvest inflation, is quite nascent in the northern hemisphere.

“More to the point, such a step up in food prices has emerged before the UK supposedly leaves the EU. Life is too short to consider all the nuances and scenarios around what Brexit could mean for the food and drink segment. Clearly, however, a disorderly process could lead to an array of outcomes that are ultimately inflationary.”

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