"Surprised" was Supermarket Association (SATT) president Rajiv Diptee's response to the announcement by National Flour Mills (NFM) of a 33 per cent increase in flour prices.
Speaking at the launch of Southex Agriculture and Food Expo at the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, Columbus Circle, Westmoorings, on Wednesday, he said the company did not try to cushion the impact on the public.
“I am very surprised NFM did not attempt to work out a strategy as a state entity, where perhaps some of this cost could have been subsidised. Wheat flour in particular is a staple in household diets. In villages they still give porridge as meals to the children.
“I want to make it clear that while they’ve suggested retail pricing, we have to see how that will work out across the board in terms of how retailers respond to this,” he said.
From Wednesday, NFM flour prices increased by 33 per cent, with a suggested 28 per cent retail increase, and from Monday Nutrimix products will see a ten-33 per cent increase. This is the second round of price increases since January. Both companies have cited challenges in the international wheat market brought on by the Russia-Ukraine conflict, bad weather and the high cost of freight.
Diptee said while it was a good time to look at flour alternatives, policy and regulation were needed to ensure its affordability to underprivileged families.
“We are very much in support of alternatives – cassava, sweet potato, eddoes, yam, potato – where there is the capacity for many types of flour.
"However, from the cost factor, wheat flour remains the most attractive at this time. When we consider the alternatives, is it that the manufacturers of those types of flour can provide accessible equity for underprivileged households? That is really the key consideration when you look at the alternatives,” he explained.
Diptee said support was needed for the local staples as part of sharing the burden of adjustment in an effort to find short- and medium-term solutions to manage the exogenous shocks that prices on the international markets force on TT.
He also added that businesses, especially food establishments, now needed to revise and innovate their businesses models to adapt and survive
“When you consider that flour is an ingredient in a lot of the foods that we enjoy, and while it is not the main ingredient, we have to accept the fact that it is the primary ingredient in the configuration of putting together the offerings to customers.
“Now we will have to see some of the businesses become innovative in the food service sector,” Diptee said.
TT Chamber president Charles Lashley said while there was talk of and interest in alternative types of flour, the realisation of such production was a few years away.
“It is critical that NFM is doing what they are doing, and that is to ensure that supplies are available to them, and they have confirmed that they have supplies until the end of the year, which is critical, as there is no short-term solution for substitutes that the Caribbean can immediately access,” Lashley said.