ATHENS – The biggest worry for Greeks isn’t spyware or fears Turkey will invade – it’s the cost of food that soaring inflation made so expensive they’ve turned to cheaper brands or gone without, surveys have found.
The New Democracy government, facing a re-election fight in 2023 – the pre-campaign is already essentially underway – has responded by creating a so-called Househould Basket in which supermarkets keep prices down on 51 staple items.
While it was touted as answer for the hungry and includes many everyday items, some shoppers think it’s not working and that what’s in the basket isn’t really what they want or needed.
In a feature, the British newspaper The Guardian said the idea of giving people stable prices on everything from fish to flour has met with some disgruntlement even though it provides items at a more affordable price.
“To be honest it’s a bit of a nonsense, not that I’d want to say that openly as I’m a public sector employee,” a woman browsing the shelves of a supermarket close to the ministry where she works told the paper.
“It’s very much aimed for those on low incomes. It has things you’d never want to buy, like this coffee in a tin for example,” she said.
Panagiota Kalapotharakou, who heads the consumer rights association Ekpizo said that, “For the vast majority it hasn’t been the least bit beneficial. And part of the problem is that we still have some of the highest prices in Europe for basic services like the internet. People are really struggling.”
When it was introduced though it was lauded by Development and Investments Minister Adonis Georgiadis who went to the markets himself.
At that time in November said that while Greek households are struggling with food prices that 90,000 had benefited from using the Household Basket scheme and that it was working.
The New Democracy government said the plan is one answer to jumping food prices making staple items out of reach for many, such as coffee, bread and pasta, but said it can’t afford to reduce a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food, one of the European Union’s highest.
“Stable prices in an environment with about 10 percent inflation rate is already a very significant contribution,” Georgiadis told journalists accompanying him on his tour of the stores.
“We said it would be a difficult winter, but we are doing everything we can to make it easier for the public,” he said, reported the Chinese news agency Xinhua, with the government also pouring 9 billion euros ($9.5 billion) in state aid for electricity bills that have doubled or more.
The “household basket,” which is updated on a weekly basis, includes everything from bread, flour, eggs, meat, fish, spaghetti, beverages, dairy products, toilet paper and baby formulas to pet food with prices lower than those off the list.
Consumers can browse these products and their prices at each supermarket on the ministry’s website and identify them on supermarket shelves by a special label, the report noted, although they had not always been easy to find.
According to the ministry’s website, out of 816 products included in the basket for one week earlier that prices were reduced for 167 items, increased for 60 and remained unchanged for 589 compared to the previous week, while the overall decline in prices was 18.1 percent.
The initiative, which will run throughout the winter, triggered competition, and reduced or stable prices now also apply to products that are not included in the basket, Georgiadis said but some shoppers said items they prefer aren’t included.
“We spent weeks sitting around this table working on it with supermarket market representatives and our competition committee,” Sotiris Anagnostopoulos, the Ministry of Commerce General-Secretary told the paper.
“In politics you have to anticipate what is coming next. The cost of living crisis is a huge challenge, maybe the biggest we have faced since the adoption of the euro,” he added of the dilemma.
With the country’s annual consumer inflation rate now at 10 percent, down from 12 percent in September, the government insists the initiative has stabilized prices or even driven some of them lower.
“What was never expected was the price war that we have seen among the big supermarket chains,” said Anagnostopoulos. “It’s been a surprise and a pleasant one because in general Greeks have much lower purchasing power.”
Rising prices were found to be the single biggest problem facing Mitsotakis the polling company Marc found in a survey showing nearly 60 percent respondents said he household basket would hold down food prices.