A better-than-expected inflation report for January bolstered hopes that price hikes is near its end -- but consumers are still wary as the cost for some food items for Lunar New Year ceremonies continues to soar.
“I have visited two different discount stores and searched online shopping platforms to compare prices and buy cheaper fruits and other food items that I need for family gatherings during the Lunar New Year holiday,” Lee, 63, a woman living in Gyeonggi Province said.
Among many products, prices of fruit produce increased dramatically, increasing the burden on consumers, particularly as they are often used to prepare the charyesang, the ceremonial table used in offering food to ancestors during the Lunar New Year holiday.
“Usually, people put top-quality fruit and other food on the table for the ancestral rites. However, due to the increasing prices of fruit, this year, people have been purchasing 'ugly' produce, which tends to be cheaper,” an official from a local discount store operator said. "Ugly" produce refers to produce that is not up to regulatory standards due to aesthetic reasons such as uneven sizes, shapes and scratches, and thus sells for cheaper.
According to the data compiled by Statistics Korea, fruit prices last month jumped 28.5 percent compared to a year ago, marking the most dramatic increase since January 2011, when fruit prices went up by 31.9 percent on-year.
The number of shoppers at local traditional markets is also down compared to last year, merchants at local traditional markets said. “Usually, the street should get busy, particularly a week ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday as many people buy fruit and other food items for ancestral rites and family gatherings. But this year, not many delivery vehicles come in and go out, and only a few shoppers are dropping by to buy cheap fruit produce,” a merchant at a fruit market in Seoul said.
Another merchant said, “Our sales have dropped by around 20-30 percent compared to the previous year.” The merchant added that sales of other food products used to make sweet rice punch and pancakes have dropped this year.
Increases in the prices of vegetables and fruit have also propelled a surge in the average price of preparing the charyesang. According to Korea Price Information, overall, the prices of fruits and vegetables this year have jumped by some 20 percent.
As a result, the budget required to prepare the charyesang for a four-member household has come out to 281,500 won when foods are purchased at traditional markets, up 8.9 percent from the previous year, the price information agency said.
The budget was 35.2 percent higher when consumers purchased at large supermarkets, reaching 380,580 won, also up 5.8 percent on-year.
As inflation pressure continues, the government recently decided to inject a total of 84 billion won ($63 million) to bring down the prices of major high-demand goods.