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The Nations Favourite Dinner; Spaghetti Bolognese, Costs 20% More Thanks To Food Inflation...

Pasta bake, fish finger supper and spag bol increase by over a quarter, Which? finds, as ingredients double

Pasta bake, fish finger supper and spag bol increase by over a quarter, Which? finds, as ingredients double

Everyday family meals have increased by over a quarter in the last 12 months as some essential ingredients double in price, according to new figures from Which? that show despite generally being the cheapest option, inflation on value ranges far outstrips other foods.

The most recent official data showed that food inflation struck 19.3% in April, dipping only slightly from March's 19.6% and remaining close to the highest rate for more than 45 years

The consumer champion found some popular family meals such as pasta bake, fish fingers, chips and beans and homemade spaghetti bolognese are among the dishes that have increased by up to 27 per cent over the course of the year.

In May, Which? analysed the prices of almost 26,000 food and drink products for its inflation tracker at eight major supermarkets – Aldi, Asda, Lidl, Morrisons, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose – to see how everyday product prices are being affected.

For a real impression of what households are facing when planning their mealtimes, Which? looked at the price of the ingredients needed for some everyday favourites for a family of four, including a three-ingredient pasta bake, a spaghetti bolognese, a fish finger supper and a Sunday roast chicken.

The ingredients Which? looked at are listed below:

  1. Basic pasta bake recipe – jar of pasta sauce, penne pasta and cheddar cheese

  2. Fish finger supper – Fish fingers, chips, and beans

  3. Spaghetti bolognese – Tinned tomatoes, beef mince, onion, carrots, garlic, beef stock, olive oil and spaghetti

  4. Roast chicken dinner – Chicken, potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cabbage peas, chicken gravy granules and vegetable oil.

Cost Increase Breakdown

For the quick pasta bake for four people, Which? analysed the prices of jars of pasta sauce, packs of penne pasta and cheddar cheese and found that across the supermarkets, the average cost of the meal had gone from £2.68 (67p per portion) in the three months to the end of May 2022 to £3.39 (85p per portion) for the same period 12 months later – an increase of 27 per cent.

When Which? looked at a regular fish finger supper with chips and beans, it found the overall price went from £3.06 (76p per portion) to £3.79 (95p per portion) – an increase of 24 per cent. This was mainly driven by baked beans which went up by an average of 36 per cent, although there were some baked beans that went up far more than this. HP Baked Beans in a Rich Tomato Sauce (415g), for example, went from 54p to 95p at Asda – a hike of 77 per cent.

Frozen chips saw one of the biggest average increases on Which?’s shopping list, at 23 per cent, with some varieties doubling in price. Own brand French Fries (900g) were up from 83p to £1.75 at Sainsbury’s, an increase of 110 per cent. A similar item at Lidl – Harvest Basket French Fries (900g) – went up 99 per cent from 68p to £1.35 during that same time period.

For households who prefer to cook from scratch, Which? also looked at a standard spaghetti bolognese recipe which included beef mince, onion, carrots, stock, garlic, chopped tomatoes and dried spaghetti, as well as olive oil to cook with. The meal went up from £5.53 on average (£1.38 per portion) in the three months to the end of May 2022 to £6.63 (£1.65 per portion) for the same period in 2023, or an extra 20 per cent on average across the eight supermarkets.

Some of the key ingredients saw much bigger increases, however, with own-label beef mince 4% fat 500g going from £2.89 at Tesco to £4.60 – an increase of 59 per cent.

Which? also looked at a typical Sunday lunch of roast chicken, potatoes, peas, broccoli, carrots and gravy, as well as vegetable oil to cook with. It found that while it was the most expensive overall, the increase was 13 per cent – the smallest of the meals included in Which?’s analysis. For a family of four, the overall average across the supermarkets in 2022 was £6.43 (£1.61 per portion), increasing to £7.28 (£1.82 per portion).

While vegetable oil (43%) and chicken gravy granules (40%) stood out as having large increases across the supermarkets when Which? looked at individual products, own label Asda Frozen for Freshness Garden Peas 1kg surged from 76p to £1.33 – an increase of 74 per cent over the course of 12 months.

These examples of massive price hikes on some of the everyday ingredients needed to make a basic meal show how difficult it is, particularly for customers on low incomes, to feed a family as many items become increasingly unaffordable.

Which?’s findings come as the government is actively discussing how supermarkets can help consumers. Next week’s official inflation figures are set to show food prices remaining at an elevated level. For the first time since February, overall inflation on food and drink fell below 17 per cent to 16.5 per cent in the one month to the end of May 2023 compared to the same period the previous year. However, in May 2022, inflation had already risen by 5.1 per cent since May 2021.

According to Which?’s tracker, own-label budget goods showed no sign of slowing down, soaring from 25 per cent in April to 26.6 per cent in May. By contrast, regular own brands (19.1%), premium own brands (12.9%) and branded (13.2%) food and drink all slowed month on month.

Why you shouldn't shop at a convenience store if on a tight budget

While supermarket own brand budget products are still usually the cheapest available, the scale of these price increases demonstrates how low-income shoppers are being hit hard by soaring inflation. To make matters worse, Which? previously found that these value ranges are rarely sold in smaller convenience stores despite two-thirds (66%) of people with a household income under £21,000 shopping in these stores at least once a week.

While the whole food supply chain affects prices, Which? strongly believes supermarkets could do much more to help the people who are struggling the most in the face of rampant food price increases by ensuring that smaller convenience stores stock a range of essential budget lines that support a healthy diet, especially in areas where they are most needed.

Supermarkets also need to commit to clearer unit pricing, especially on promotions and loyalty card offers, so that people can easily work out which products offer the best value.

Sue Davies, Which? Head of Food Policy, said:

“The cost of food during this period of economic uncertainty has turned the pleasure of mealtimes with loved ones into a nightmare for the millions that are struggling to afford food.

“Supermarkets must put their customers first by stocking budget lines in all of their stores, including convenience stores, to ensure easy access to basic, affordable food ranges as well as provide transparent pricing so people can easily work out which products offer the best value.

“Official Inflation data due out next week is still expected to show food prices at an elevated level, if supermarkets can’t do the right thing by their customers, it’s time for the government to take action.”

The consumer champion’s Affordable Food For All campaign calls on supermarkets to do more to ensure own-brand budget line items are widely available throughout all branches – including in smaller ‘convenience’ stores. They should also make pricing and offers more transparent.

Over 88,000 supporters have signed Which?’s petition so far, calling on the supermarkets to take action.

Alongside the University of Leeds Consumer Data Research Centre, Which? has developed the Priority Places For Food Index, which shows where in the UK people are the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Additional help for parents

If you’re more than 10 weeks pregnant or have a child under 4, you may be entitled to get help to buy healthy food and milk.

If you’re eligible, you’ll be sent a Healthy Start card with money on it that you can use in some UK shops. We’ll add your benefit onto this card every 4 weeks.

You can use your card to buy:

  • plain liquid cow’s milk

  • fresh, frozen, and tinned fruit and vegetables

  • fresh, dried, and tinned pulses

  • infant formula milk based on cow’s milk

You can also use your card to collect:

  • Healthy Start vitamins – these support you during pregnancy and breastfeeding

  • vitamin drops for babies and young children – these are suitable from birth to 4 years old

Yellow Sticker Shopping

Yellow sticker shopping is a great way to save money your food shop; check out our thorough guide to buying reduced to clear food to stretch your budget; I've saved thousands over the years doing this; in fact, without yellow stickers, I don't know what I would have done to feed my family!


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