The portion size of school dinners may have to be slashed due to the soaring cost of food, the boss of a leading wholesaler warned today.
Andrew Selley, chief executive of Bidfood, said schools might also have to use cheaper ingredients in a bid to counter rapidly rising prices.
‘The situation is going to lead to some difficult decisions for school caterers,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s Today program.
‘Either they are going to serve smaller portions or use cheaper ingredients, which is not going to be good for children.’
He said that baked goods are currently up to 30% more expensive due to rising wheat prices, which are also due to feed into pasta, eggs and chicken.
The price of sunflower oil has also ‘doubled against a year ago’, after being pushed higher by the invasion of Ukraine, one of the world’s biggest food oil exporters.
His comments came as the chairman of Marks & Spencer also warned that food prices could soar by as much as 10% this year.
Meanwhile Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, warned that households could witness an ‘apocalyptic’ shock from rampant food inflation.
Mr Norman, who has chaired M&S since 2017 and was previously the boss of Asda, did not go as far as Mr Bailey with his description.
But he said food prices would indeed increase further during the rest of the year.
‘It’s very negative for consumer discretionary income but it’s perhaps not apocalyptic,’ he told the BBC.
‘It wouldn’t be surprising to see food price inflation over the course of the year running towards 8% to 10%.
‘But we don’t know that yet because it runs through the year – some has run through now but there is quite a lot still to come.’
Analysts have predicted that overall inflation could rise sharply to 9.1% for April, when the latest official data is given by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday.
The ONS reported 5.9% food inflation in March and this is expected to have accelerated last month.
The supermarket executive, who was also previously a Conservative MP, said grocers have had to pass some cost inflation on to customers but said spending has been bolstered by customers’ savings built up during the pandemic.
Mr Norman said: ‘What’s happening is global prices are rising, it’s not to do with UK food so much as the effect of freight costs, wheat prices, oil and energy prices knocking on to almost everything.
‘As a consequence, all food retailers in the UK are, because we operate on very thin margins, going to have to reluctantly allow some food price inflation to run through the system.
‘At the moment, UK spending is pretty good because customers still have quite a lot of stored-up savings.
‘The crunch is not going to be now, it is going to be in the autumn after people have come back from their holidays, spent their money and there is nothing left in the kitty.’
Rising food prices come on top of rising energy bills and taxes, leading to the biggest decline in living standards in 70 years.
In further bleak warnings, Labor claimed today that half a million children will be in ‘absolute poverty’ by the end of the year.
The party is renewing a push for a windfall tax on gas and oil companies, which it claims could fund a subsidy package reducing the average energy bill by around a third, or £ 600 per year.
The government opposes the plan, saying it would ‘deter investment’ into infrastructure and renewables, but has refused to rule out a similar move in future.
However, ministers face calls from within their own party to provide other forms of relief.
ONS data revealed on Tuesday that real wages have fallen by 1.9% from a year earlier, the biggest decline since 2019, as payslips are not keeping up.
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