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SA shoppers ignore “best by” in quest for best buy

Sharp increases in food prices have led to more and more savvy shoppers using innovative ways to cut costs at the till. And Cape Town entrepreneur Dave Bester is cashing in on spiralling food prices with a chain of stores that only sell food close to or past its “best before” date.

He says demand had “grown phenomenally” of late, and this month he and his partner opened their fourth Foodies factory store in the Western Cape. They are situated in Diep River, Parow and Milnerton.

Recently, the first supermarket in Denmark selling only “surplus food”, opened. Shoppers queued up to get into Wefood, which is possibly the only such supermarket in the world.

According to the Copenhagen Post newspaper, Princess Marie of Denmark was one of those who attended the opening.

It is run by an NGO and crowdfunding was used to set it up. The surplus food, which would usually be dumped, comes from several suppliers, including one of Denmark’s biggest supermarket chains, Dansk Supermarked.

South Africa’s Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman, Neville Melville, said there was merit in selling certain foods after their best-before dates.

“This is a highly politically contentious topic, given the history in this country of inferior products being sold to particular groups of persons. There is, however, a growing view internationally that the best-by date is an outmoded technology that leads to unnecessary wastage.

“I [have] suggested at a conference on labelling that consideration be given to permitting the sale of products that are not susceptible to health hazards and that may merely deteriorate in quality and appearance (that is, not perishables) at discounted prices, and only if the condition of the product is first disclosed to the consumer.

“I for one would be happy to take a case of red wine when it passes the indicated expiry date of 9/2016!”

In Cape Town, Bester has been dealing in this business for the past eight years. He said the products were “perfectly safe” and legal to sell.

His customers are pensioners and middle-class shoppers “looking to extend their rand”.

A teacher from Diep River often comes in search of filter coffee that is too expensive at supermarkets.

Last year, customers bought thousands of packets of Starbucks coffee. Often, said Bester, exotic imported goods such as almond milk, sushi seaweed or cream-soda-flavoured cereal would not find favour with local consumers, and end up at his stores.

Celeste Louw is a regular customer. “My favourites are the sweets from overseas. I will often come see what they have and will go for the cheeses, tinned food and oats. It helps with my monthly grocery list.”

At one of the stores visited a big jar of mayonnaise was selling for R3.50 while it costs about R50 at Walmart in the US, and a salad dressing that costs about R32 at Walmart, was R7.50. A bran cereal that costs R40 at supermarkets was R19.50 and a pack of five breakfast bars cost R10 – less than half the usual retail price of R25.

A kilogram of coffee beans that would usually cost about R200 was offered for R95 and a sunscreen that usually sells for close to R100 was on sale for R20.

According to the Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action, which tracks inflation on 36 basic food products, a 10kg sack of potatoes increased by R23.61 to R73.32 between December and January, a 10kg bag of rice climbed by R8.66 to R76.99 and a 1.5kg bag of apples went up by R6.83 to R20.98.

A kilo of beef, however, increased by just R1, to R58.33.

Senior AgriSA economist Thabi Nkosi said that in the past two years, food inflation had been in line with general inflation.

“But because of the drought we’ve seen that food inflation has exceeded and will continue to exceed [headline inflation].

“This is largely because of the supply issue. Livestock farmers are suffering, vegetable farmers are also suffering. That drives prices up so consumers pay more at the till.”

Professor Steven Koch of the Department of Economics at the University of Pretoria said he anticipated that people would start substituting proteins, for example buying chicken instead of beef.

They might also eat more frozen vegetables and buy food items in bulk.

From rationing to chasing mark-downs and sharing bulk purchases, consumers are changing their shopping habits.

Housewife Cheryl Titus said she had discovered that in the late afternoon a fresh-produce retailer marks its meals down dramatically.

“Lasagne and vegetables or salad sometimes don’t even cost R20. It is much cheaper and healthier than buying from a fast-food outlet,” said Titus.

Amanda van Vuuren, a mother of two and a manager at an IT company in Cape Town, said her family hardly ate out any more.

“We used to go out two to three times a week for dinner with the kids, now it’s once. We are also ensuring that we are using everything in the house before buying more. So if it means a sandwich for supper or just having the leftover chicken and a bit of salad, then so be it,” she said.

Mother of four Narimah Lategan, an operations manager at a Cape Town company, said she had been paying at least R200 a week more for groceries. “I don’t have time to shop around … We’ll buy less-expensive products and look at in-store promotions.”

Sindi Lushaba, a Johannesburg asset management accountant, said she had seen a 30% to 50% increase in her grocery bill since April last year.

“Products that I’ve cut down on are 100% juice, cold meats, food sauces and hair care and beauty products,” she said.


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