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'Early signs' grocery inflation is starting to ease

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The company’s chief executive says price growth may have peaked as the competition regulator scrutinises industry prices over concerns shoppers are getting a raw deal.
Business reporter
Friday 16 June 2023 13:36, UK
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Tesco’s boss has reported „encouraging early signs” that grocery inflation is starting to ease and taken a swipe at the Bank of England as the food industry faces claims of profiteering.
The UK’s largest retailer said in a trading update that there was a slowdown in price growth across the market and it was continuing to focus on value for its customers.
Tesco updated on its performance as the food sector faces regulatory scrutiny on its pricing.
Chief executive Ken Murphy told a call with analysts that he believed it was „past the peak of inflation”.
„Hopefully we will see prices moderate through the rest of the year,” he added.
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When asked whether it was unfair that the Bank of England was blaming supermarkets for stubbornly high prices, he replied in the affirmative.
It followed remarks by governor Andrew Bailey to MPs that did not explicitly accuse supermarkets of ripping people off.
He told a committee there were signs of food producers rebuilding their profit margins, with the cost of food not reflecting falling commodity costs.
Mr Bailey also suggested that sellers of food, in their communication with the Bank, had been too quick to predict falling prices ahead.
„We react pretty quickly when we see those commodities come down,” Mr Murphy said, adding that sceptics were not taking into account things like higher energy and labour costs across the supply chain.
Tesco is not obliged to give profit figures in its first quarter update but said UK like-for-like sales, excluding fuel, rose 9% to £10.8bn in the 13 weeks to 27 May. There was no data on sales volumes – the amount bought.
The retailer reiterated its existing guidance for profitability over the full year, meaning there was no upgrade despite the strong growth in sales values.
The company said that data showed it had „led the market in cutting prices on essential items to support customers”.
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Just a week ago, Tesco was accused by a consumer group of a lack of transparency over its Clubcard discounts.
That followed an announcement by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) last month that it was examining the wider grocery and fuel industry for any failure of competition that could mean consumers are being overcharged.
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Food inflation has proved among the most stubborn elements of the cost of living crisis in recent months, with the rate continuing to run above 19%.
While the bitter rivalry between chains, including the discounters, and diversity of choice has long been credited for healthy competition in the grocery sector, there are concerns they have been too slow to pass on wholesale price cuts.
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On the fuel issue, pump prices have fallen sharply since large disparities between delivery and pump costs were flagged.
The government has warned it is examining the potential for food price caps amid frustration that grocery costs have been slow to follow suit.
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The sector argues that punitive costs remain, especially in the supply chain, with energy and labour among the factors weighing heavily across the board.
Tesco shares fell 1% in early deals following its update.
Mr Murphy said of the company’s performance: „Customers continue to recognise our leading combination of great value and quality in every part of their basket – from essentials covered by our Aldi Price Match, through to our growing Finest range.
„We are very conscious that many of our customers continue to face significant cost of living pressures and we have led the way in cutting prices on everyday essential items.
„There are encouraging early signs that inflation is starting to ease across the market and we will keep working tirelessly to ensure customers receive the best possible value at Tesco.”
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