Italians Say Enough to Soaring Pasta Prices: Basta!
As the cost of pasta, an essential element of Italian cuisine, has risen by twice the rate of inflation, Italians have reached their limit. In response, a consumer advocacy group is urging a week-long national pasta strike, commencing on June 22. This comes after the Italian government held a crisis meeting last month but ultimately chose not to intervene on the issue of rising pasta prices.
Furio Truzzi, the President of the consumer advocacy group Assoutenti, explained that the planned week-long pasta strike is aimed at testing whether keeping pasta on the shelves will lead to a reduction in prices, following the Anglo-Saxon tradition of boycotting goods. “The price of pasta has surged to a level that is completely disproportionate to production costs,” Truzzi added.
Despite falling food commodity costs, including the wheat used to make pasta flour, grocery prices in Europe have risen more significantly compared to other developed economies such as Japan and the United States. Higher energy and labor costs, as well as the impact of Russia’s war in Ukraine, have contributed to this trend.
While stores and suppliers are being blamed for “greedflation,” economists argue that retail profits have remained steady and the issue lies with the higher cost of food production. With the rising food prices, some European governments have implemented price caps on staple products or have tried to negotiate agreements with grocery stores to lower their prices.
However, this may have the opposite effect and further exacerbate food prices. While such moves may be popular among the public, they may lead to unanticipated consequences.
To combat rising food prices, the French government has come to an agreement with supermarket chains to cut prices on an array of essential goods and food items for a period of three months, and this is expected to be extended throughout the summer. The British government, where food inflation has reached the highest in 45 years, is also discussing a plan to follow suit.
Hungary, which currently has the highest food inflation rates in the European Union, and Croatia have implemented price controls for certain products such as cooking oil, wheat flour, milk, and some cuts of pork, to address the issue of rising food prices. By imposing such measures, these countries aim to shield consumers from high prices and prevent further economic instability.
The Italian government has announced that it will enhance its price-monitoring mechanisms by collaborating more closely with the country’s 20 regions, but has decided against imposing price controls, unlike some other countries. Instead, their focus is on monitoring the situation and keeping prices in check through non-regulatory means.
In Spain, price controls have not been implemented, but the government has eliminated all value-added tax on essential goods and products, as well as halved tax rates for cooking oil and pasta to 5%. These measures are expected to reduce the burden on consumers and help reduce the impact of rising food prices.
As food prices continue to rise, more and more people are facing food insecurity, leading to a surge in demand for food banks in some countries. The measures being taken by governments to tackle the issue of rising food prices are especially important considering the effect it has on the most vulnerable groups in society.
Helen Barnard of the Trussell Trust, a UK charity that operates more than 50% of the country’s food banks, has stated that the situation is getting worse for people, further adding to the challenges faced by those who are already struggling.
While supermarkets do donate food items, it still becomes a challenge for those running community food pantries to spend more on items such as milk, pasta, and vegetables to cover the gap in donated items. For instance, Anna Sjovorr-Packham, who runs multiple community food pantries in South London, stated that while the demand from families has not dramatically increased, costs have skyrocketed, making it challenging to extend the required support.
Despite the fact that food and non-alcoholic drink prices have decreased in Europe from 17.5% in March to 15% in April, the reduced rates remain a source of concern for people. These reductions come as energy prices, which are crucial to the growth and transportation of produce, have reduced from record highs of the previous year. However, economists predict that it will take many months before store prices normalize and stabilize at pre-pandemic rates.
In contrast to Europe, the US, Japan, Canada, and the UK experienced a much higher inflation rate in food prices. For example, food prices in April rose by 7.7% from the previous year in the United States, 8.2% in Japan, 9.1% in Canada, and 19% in the UK. These figures have bolstered the notion that the European Central Bank will increase interest rates to control inflation, while the US Federal Reserve is likely to not undertake such action.
According to Neil Shearing, the group chief economist for Capital Economics, resorting to price controls in Europe might sway voters due to the constant reminders of inflation each time they pay at the checkout, but it should only be considered in the context of supply shocks like wartime.
Neil Shearing further elaborated that imposing price controls may actually worsen the issue of food inflation as it leads to higher demand from customers while discouraging new supply. Therefore, such intervention is not warranted in the current scenario of food price shocks.
Despite being one of the most affordable items in a grocery basket, pasta holds significant symbolism in Italian culture, and the rising prices are being felt by families across the country. This increase in prices is not only limited to pasta but is affecting almost all items of daily consumption, including sugar, rice, olive oil, and potatoes.
According to Assoutenti, an Italian consumer advocacy group, families of four in Italy are spending an additional 915 euros ($984) annually on groceries, which is a surge of almost 12% and brings the total to 7,690 euros per year. A recent SWG poll indicated that one-third of Italians have reduced their spending on groceries, while almost half are turning to discount stores to cope with the increase in food prices.
However, even shopping at discount stores is not as affordable as it used to be, and this is particularly tough for pensioners. “Before, you could buy two packs of pasta for 1 euro, but now with 2 euros, you only get three packs,” Carlo Compellini, a retired citizen shopping in central Rome, expressed.
Food inflation is hampering people’s ability to afford even small luxuries, leading to a growing divide between those who can afford to buy what they like and those who cannot.
The opening of a Sacher Café in Trieste, an Italian city known for its Austro-Hungarian architecture and history, led the mayor to make a controversial and out-of-touch remark that drew parallels to a similar comment attributed to Marie Antoinette. This statement was widely mocked by the public and revealed a stark disconnect between politicians and the citizens who are struggling to cope with rising food prices.
When asked about the high cost of a slice of the renowned Viennese chocolate cake, which cost almost 10 euros, the Mayor of Trieste, Roberto Dipiazza, made a controversial remark saying “if you have money, go, and if you don’t have money, watch,” which drew criticism from the public for its tone-deafness and lack of empathy towards those struggling due to rising food prices.