The 2019 grocery bill challenge


“YOU know how much were groceries?” Vera, my wife, asked after doing her weekly grocery shopping on the first day of 2019.

“How much?” I said.

“About RM600. I bought the usual things. But it was not the full grocery list as no toiletries and household cleaning products,” she said.

“How’s that possible?” I said.

Usually, our weekly grocery bill is about RM500. We shop at a supermarket in Subang Jaya.

Our New Year’s Day conversation reminded me of what my mother used to say in the early 1980s.

“Nowadays, you can’t buy anything for RM50,” she was fond of saying to remind her four kids that inflation was creeping up.

Prices had gone up to the point that RM50 was not enough for mummy to buy weekly groceries for a family of six in Kota Kinabalu. Nowadays, RM500 is not enough for wifey to purchase weekly groceries for a middle class household of four in Subang Jaya.

In 2010, when we moved from Bangkok to Subang Jaya, our weekly grocery bill was about RM300. In the next three or four years, it rose to RM400. And around 2015, it spiked to about RM500.

Now, it is about RM600.

It means for 2019, our grocery bill will be RM2,400 a month compared to RM1,200 a month in 2010.

For years, we felt the pinch. At the start of the new year, it felt like a punch.

For years, it was BN (barang naik or specifically harga barang naik, which translated to prices of goods increase).

Now, with the change of government, it is PH (price hike).

Curious to know why our weekly grocery bill had increased by about RM100, I WhatsApp-ed the management of the supermarket. As their loyal customers since 2010, I’m familiar with them.

In a restaurant in Subang Jaya, I showed the merchandising department head a 60cm-long RM601.45 grocery bill.

“I see you bought Vitagen. The price has gone up again,” he said.

“Lay’s price also has gone up. Pringles, too. You buy a lot of chips. Premium potato chips.”

“My two kids love chips,” I said, referring to five-year-old Sylverius Junior and 10-year-old Apsara.

“Cadbury chocolates have gone up. Skippy peanut butter. Arnott’s Shortbread is imported from Australia,” he said.

“You bought rice. Its price actually has not gone up much.”

“How about chicken?” I said.

“Chicken. It has only gone up about 30 to 40 sen. The chicken you bought is antibiotic-free. It is premium quality,” he said.

“You’ve bought Lurpak butter. In the last year, the price of butter has shot up. The increase is from 20% to 25% for all butter. It is because of a worldwide shortage.”

“Eggs?” I said.

“There was a shortage of eggs in the last one month. It has gone up but not much. For a packet of 10, it is usually RM4.90. It went up by 20 sen,” he said.

“It is when there’s a surplus that you get them at promotion price because the supplier needs to sell the surplus as they have a sell-by date.”

“How about onions?” I said.

“Prices of onions have gone up and down as they are imported from India, China and Bangladesh. Onion prices are not stable because they are a crop. If there is a shortage in India, they will not export them,” he said.

“When the onions are round, they are not expensive. When they are ugly, they are expensive. It is because when there is a surplus of onions, the suppliers can pick and choose and throw away the ugly ones.”

“How did my grocery bill go from about RM500 to RM600?” I said.

The merchandising department head said he couldn’t pinpoint exactly how it went up as he needs a comparison of the same 10 products bought in 2018 and 2019.

However, he said my bill went up partly because there has been a price increase on certain products.

“For some of the range you bought, the pricing has gone up – some 5% to 15%. It also depends on whether last year you bought the items on promotion,” he said.

He said there were three reasons for the price hikes.

One, the depreciation of the ringgit against the US dollar has caused the price of imported goods to appreciate.

Two, suppliers have increased prices. They claimed the prices of imported raw materials and packaging materials have gone up because of the weak ringgit. They have also said their cost of transportation has gone up because of the fuel price hike.

Three, with the abolition of the goods and services tax (GST) on June 1 and the reintroduction of the sales and service tax (SST), manufacturers have increased prices.

In his 20 years’ experience in the supermarket industry, the merchandising head noticed before 2010, the prices did not go up often. It took three to four years for them to go up. But after 2010, the prices go up almost every year. Now they go up sometimes twice or thrice in a year.

The gradual pricing increase for some items have resulted in steep prices.

“Just say, cooking oil. You paid RM13 to RM14 for a 5kg bottle in 2010. But today you pay around RM25 to RM26,” he said.

To stretch the ringgit, my family’s New Year’s resolution is to change our grocery shopping habit.

For items such as meat, vegetables and fish, we’ll shop at a fresh market in our neighbourhood.

We will still shop at our favourite supermarket. We prefer it to hypermarkets, which are too big and too crowded.

There’s a price to pay when you want to shop far away from the madding crowd.

Philip Golingai , grocery