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Is Food More Expensive in France?

Friday 29 October 2021

Apparently so, according to a recent study by the European Commission, who found that food is around 25% more expensive in France than in the UK.

The report published in June by the European Commission statistics service provides an insight into the comparative price of household items across 37 countries of Europe, with a focus on food, beverages and tobacco. The study is undertaken annually and the current report is for the year 2020.

It shows that Switzerland is the most expensive country for food, Norway for non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages and Ireland for tobacco.

Turkey is the least expensive country for food, non-alcoholic beverages and tobacco, Hungary for alcoholic beverages.

France is ranked the 13th most expensive country for all goods in the survey, 4 places behind the UK, which sits in 9th position.

The table below shows the ranking, using an index base of 100. Whilst France has an index of 114.1, in the UK it is 119.1

Source: Eurostat

However, as can be seen, the UK is substantially cheaper than France for food and non-alcoholic beverages, and the UK is only more expensive in the ranking due to the higher price of alcohol and tobacco in the UK.

If alcohol, tobacco and other beverages are stripped out of the comparison then the cost of food in the UK is around 26% lower than in France. That occurs across most different food types, particularly for fruit and vegetables, meat and fish, where the difference is over one-third.

The UK sits in position 25 in terms of price average, whilst France in position number 9, as shown on the tables below.

Given that France produces 80% of the food it eats that may come as a surprising outcome, but one of the reasons behind it is the dominance of hypermarkets in France and the comparatively low number of discount stores. Around 60% of all food is purchased in hypermarkets. According to the l’Institut de liaisons des entreprises de consommation (Ilec) "Hypermarkets attract more premium, regional or local products that pull the indices up, even if they coexist with a low-cost call offer."

That is a view echoed by Dominique Amirault, President of the Federation of Enterprises and Entrepreneurs of France (FEEF) who states: "The demand for local, ethical, authentic products is currently very strong. And these products are not cheaper than others."

Neither is there any solace in food purchased in open-air French markets, for as a study pointed out last year, food in the markets is more expensive than in the supermarkets.

So one explanation may well be the dominance of home produced food in France.

Another key factor is the high cost of labour which producers have to support. In France, the cost per hour of work is €37.50, compared to an average of €28.50 in the European Union, €37 in Germany, and around €28 in the UK.

The figures in the report have been adjusted for the purchasing power of different currencies to create a common unit.

They are based on the currency rate in 2020 and take no account of the change in currency values since this date, or the impact of Brexit on food prices in the UK. 

Nevertheless, there is a crumb of comfort in it all, as even though food may be more expensive in France, you can fill your boot with litres of wine, which is around 25% lower in France than in the UK.

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