Christmas blues as food portions shrink

A family enjoys a meal on Christmas day. High food prices fuelled by a range of factors has left many Ugandans unable to afford a decent meal on this year’s Christmas. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Those who choose to either dine indoors or outdoors will be met with what has come to be referred to as shrinkflation. 

Dinner on Christmas Eve in Uganda tends to be light, the proverbial quiet before the gut-busting storm on the 25th. This year both meals, today and tomorrow, look set to be overwhelmingly modest. 
The consumer price index (CPI) prints from the past three years show that shoppers, who scour downtown areas for the best possible deals will face the most expensive Christmas dinner in three years.

Food price inflation fueled by a range of factors including the Russia-Ukraine war and prolonged drought have combined to drive up the cost of staple foods by almost a quarter as per the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics’ November CPI prints from 2020, 2021 and 2022.
Those that choose to either dine indoors or outdoors will be met with what has come to be referred to as shrinkflation. Lovers of street food have, for instance, been met with the grim fact that the size of the “Rolex” (vegetable omelette rolled inside a chapati) has shrunk rather tremendously. Those that man “Rolex” stalls say their hand has been forced by the cost of ingredients. Most, if not all, have soared steeply.

A survey conducted in markets dotting Kampala and Jinja cities indicate that vegetable oil costs Shs10,000 per litre; onions Shs2,500 per kilogramme; tomatoes Shs4,000 per kilogramme; carrots Shs2,500 per kilogramme; green pepper Shs3,000 per kilogramme; salt Shs1,000 per sachet; curry powder Shs10,000 and muchuzi mix Shs8,000.
Sources of energy to cook the meal are also just as punishing. A sack of charcoal now goes for Shs80,000 while a six-kilogramme gas cylinder knocks off Shs55,000. 

For those that eat indoors, the tradition has always been to buy things in bulk in anticipation of preparing a feast. Anecdotal evidence however points to shrinkflation forcing many cash-strapped customers to downsize at a time when they traditionally upsize. The retail prices for matooke (between Shs40,000 and Shs80,000); Super rice (Shs5,000 per kilogramme); imported Basmati rice (Shs15,000 per kilogramme); wheat flour (Shs8,000 per kilogramme); beef (Shs16,000 per kilogramme); local chicken (Shs50,000); groundnut paste (Shs8,000 per kilogramme) and greens (Shs5,000 per kilogramme) are all prohibitively high for many.
If one for instance were to buy one small bunch of matooke at Shs40,000; a kilogramme of Super rice; one chicken, one kilogramme of beef, and one kilogramme or single serving of each of the rest of our listed items, a Christmas meal will cost at least Shs323,000. This is out of the reach of most Ugandans who have grappled with a cost of living squeeze all year long.

Chopping the menu
Some public servants who talked to Saturday Monitor indicate that the cost of living crisis now means that they have to chop the menu.
“It is about cutting one’s coat according to the available cloth. I will have matooke and rice. I will have the chicken and beef too and maybe the greens, but the chapati will be off the list,” Mr James Omoding told Saturday Monitor, adding that he will buy “a few sodas for mostly the children.”
For many public servants, chopping expenditure to be able to survive for longer periods becomes vitally important given the intermittent manner in which salary payments have been coming since the beginning of the financial year.

Scaling back on clothes
It is not just purchases of food that are undergoing a scaling back. Clothes are too. During the festive period, traders in clothing usually tend to make a killing as people try to look the part during one of the most commercialised holiday seasons. The cost of living crisis has however triggered a rethink this time round.
“I limited myself to buying clothes for the children. Even then, I bought each of them a dress apiece and not two as I usually do. I usually buy a dress for Christmas and another for the New Year festivities. I just hope that my mother and father will understand that the situation is tighter than usual,” Mr Julius Ngobi said.

Coming home for Xmas?
Catching up with family and kin at Christmas normally entails driving back to the countryside where they reside. A diminished purchasing power, increased public transport fares and the high cost of petrol and diesel, however, mean that this hasn’t been the preference of many. 
Take Mr Dennis Witaba, a boda boda rider, who hails from Kisoro District. He told Saturday Monitor that “it does not make sense for me to spend Shs120,000 on transport amidst lots of other issues that require our attention.” 

He added: “I would rather send my parents that money by mobile money and stay here in Kampala and keep looking for money.”
Mr Joel Baguma told us that he will be travelling back, but by public means.
“The cost of petrol remains quite prohibitive, not to mention the wear and tear. I cannot fuel the car and at the same time attend to the problems of the family and some of the people in the village. Using public transport means that I will be able to save some money,” Mr Baguma said.
A mini survey conducted by this newspaper earlier in the week indicated that whereas transport fares have been increased by between Shs5,000 and Shs10,000, the numbers of those making journeys upcountry are smaller than festive periods gone by.

Additional reporting by Abdu Nasser Ssemugabi