ATHENS – Floods that wiped out much of Greece’s agricultural heartland of Thessaly and blocked roads, keeping off trucks carrying goods have combined with inflation to make basic foods too expensive for many families.
That’s coupled with a 24 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on food that Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis backed away from lowering, saying the country can’t afford it despite renewed economic growth and likely tourism revenues.
In 2022 when inflation was raging, the New Democracy government pushed supermarkets to hold down prices on 51 essential items but since then there have been complaints of profiteering and gouging.
Big supermarkets now will have to give their price lists and costs to government officials in an attempt to keep prices from spiking even more and promises to hold down so-called “Greedlation” without anti-gouging laws.
While inflation had fallen, food costs have risen 10.8 percent, driven by the summer disasters and saw consumer prices rise by 3.5 percent in August, before the effect of farm fields under water in Thessaly is felt.
That has left many families finding it difficult to make food purchases and turning to generic goods, supermarkets raking in big profits and not moving to lower prices on their own as they continue to cash in.
The government has offered a monthly allowance to low-income households to help them with their supermarket expenses since February but could be pulling back some subsidies to deal with the costs of covering the disasters losses.
“We will not hide behind statistics,” Development Minister Kostas Skrekas told a press conference. “No one can be happy when there are families struggling to buy essential goods,” he added.
He said that major supermarket chains would have to notify authorities of their suppliers’ price lists to help identify which products have become expensive and fight profiteering.
For fruit and vegetables, supermarkets will need to publish their retail prices, while they will also have to mark products at a discount of at least 5 percent compared with their cost before Sept. 20.
“Our aim is to have permanent and visible drops in the sales prices and boost competition,” Skrekas said, adding that supermarkets that were found to be offering fake discounts would face hefty fines, said the Reuters news agency.
A law capping the profit margins on basic essential goods could also apply in 2024 if inflation persists, Skrekas said at the OT Forum held at the 87th Thessaloniki International Forum.
“We are in favor of the free market, not the unaccountable market … anyone seeking to profiteer at such a difficult time for the country will pay for it dearly. We will be merciless and this is not confined to Thessaly,” he said.
The fines imposed on shops that unjustifiably increased prices in the flooded regions of Thessaly will be announced soon, he said, and inspections of markets will continue, said the state-run Athens-Macedonia News Agency AMNA.
Skrekas said the government was monitoring prices in relation to Europe also and would step in if things appeared to be “getting out of hand,” and said there’s no shortage of food yet.
There had been accusations of dairy companies working together to keep prices high – milk especially – and supermarkets haven’t generally lowered their prices, with increases in goods such as coffee, olive oil and tuna.
“Anyone seeking to profiteer at such a difficult time for the country will pay for it dearly. We will be merciless and this is not confined to Thessaly,” he added, noting that a cap on bottled water – long ago set – would be enforced.
“We want strong businesses and a strong business base but we must protect consumers,” he added, with households losing purchase power because of price rises that show no sign of slowing.
He said the government was monitoring prices and comparing them to those elsewhere in the European Union and would step in if the situation is “getting out of hand,” and that there’s no shortages yet.
Prices are set for another big jump though with the ripple effect of losing agricultural goods from Thessaly and it’s already being seen at supermarkets, especially with cucumbers – whose prices doubled – and tomatoes and lettuce.
The Hellenic Federation of Associations of Producers of Agricultural Products and Market Sellers condemned profiteering which the government said it would stop without indicating whether that would include supermarkets.