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Fresh produce prices take a dip, leading the way in August's inflation slowdown

The rate of retail price inflation in the UK experienced a noteworthy slowdown in August, marking its lowest pace of increase since October of the previous year, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC). This trend was significantly influenced by a decline in the inflation rate of fresh produce.

BRC's latest data indicates that the annual retail inflation rate cooled off to 6.9% in August, a step down from July's 7.6%. The standout feature of this moderation was the diminishing inflation in the fresh produce sector, where items like potatoes, meat and certain cooking oils saw inflation rates drop to 11.5% from July's 13.4%.

Fresh Produce at the Forefront

The BRC pointed out that the prices of fresh produce would have been even more consumer-friendly had the government not opted to increase alcohol duties earlier in the month. Nevertheless, the softening in the prices of essentials like meat and vegetables offers a glimmer of hope to households.

Non-Food Categories and Weather Conditions

While non-food inflation remained steady at 4.7%, the fresh produce sector clearly led the way in easing overall inflationary pressures. Mike Watkins, the head of retailer and business insight at NielsenIQ, stated that unpredictable weather has subdued consumer demand, affecting sectors outside fresh produce more heavily.

Retailer Response to Lower Fresh Produce Prices

Watkins also noted that various high-street retailers have increased promotional activities to sustain sales. However, the significant shift has been in food shops that are increasingly extending price cuts, particularly in the fresh produce department. This is viewed as a response to easing inflationary pressures, predominantly from more stable supply chains.

Household Spending and Future Outlook

NielsenIQ's recent survey revealed that nearly 60% of households anticipate a "moderate" or "severe" impact from rising household costs in the upcoming months. Watkins suggests that despite the decline in fresh produce prices, consumers are likely to maintain a cautious approach to discretionary spending.

Wider Economic Context

The BRC’s measurements, which largely focus on in-store sales, are seen as an early indicator for the broader Consumer Prices Index. While inflation remains high, surpassing the Bank of England's 2% target, the easing in fresh produce prices provides a modicum of relief, even as experts predict another interest rate hike in September.

The slowing inflation rate in fresh produce not only alleviates some consumer concerns but also indicates a potentially stabilising economy, albeit with caution advised for the foreseeable future.


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