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Survey: Food inflation biting hard into India’s middle-class

03-Dec-2013 - By RJ Whitehead
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Inflation has been forcing households to cut down on their consumption of nutrient-rich foods by almost 40%, according to a new Indian chambers of industry survey.

Nearly 72% of the 3,000 lower-middle class families covered in the report said inflation has forced them to buy less fruit, vegetables and milk because of consistently high retail prices.  

Making life tough

The price rise of essential commodities and expenses on other necessities like education, transport and health has stayed higher than the pace at which earnings have increased, making life difficult for the poor, lower-income and even middle-class families,” said DS Rawat, secretary general of the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

Food inflation has been the sustained pressure in protein rich items [like milk, pulses, fish, meat and eggs]. Inflation at the retail level in protein rich items has generally exceeded headline inflation.”

As India’s population is predominantly vegetarian, milk forms an essential component of its diet, but while the per-capita availability of milk has increased from 176g per day in 1991 to 276g per day in 2011, the issue is now of affordability.  

Indeed, the survey highlights that milk in liquid form is now not consumed at home to the extent of availability, and most of production is used for making milk products.

It added that onions, lady fingers and potatoes—until recently the staple of Indian cooking—are now beyond the reach even of middle-class families. The greatest impact of inflation is being felt in India’s main metros, said Assocham.

Changing times

Around 87% of respondents said they could no longer afford the season’s exotic fruits and are cutting on vegetables, while low-income groups in particular have been cutting back on the nutrient-rich snacks because they can no longer afford them.

More than 62% of salaried families said that they spend between Rs4,000 and Rs6,000 (US64.13-96.21) on vegetables and fruits per year—whereas five years ago their spend was just one-quarter of this total. The majority of respondents said that they preferred to buy vegetables in bulk.

Rawat urged the authorities to step in to arrest this decline in domestic nutrition . “At this rate, the nutrition intake of people is declining calling for immediate steps from the government to control the situation,” he said. 

Related topics: Asian tastes, Markets, Traditional and staple foods, India