Not even the most popular summer dish in Spanish gastronomy is spared from inflation. This year will be the year for the most expensive gazpacho: the set of foods necessary to prepare the recipe has risen on average between 12% and 14% in the last year, according to data collected by EL PAÍS in the markets of eight cities Spanish and crossed with INE statistics. Among the cities where cheaper ingredients have been found, a gazpacho for a family (with a kilo of tomatoes as a base) would cost 3.4 euros in Madrid and would barely mean paying a few cents more in Valencia or Las Palmas. On the other hand, the high cost of the pear tomatoes found in San Sebastián, 3.9 euros per kilo, more than double the cost: almost seven euros. The average price, therefore, could be around five euros, which is more or less what the recipe would cost in Valladolid, Seville or Barcelona. And one more euro in Vigo. “Now prices are moderating, but there was a time when I was even ashamed to sell peppers,” confesses Puy González, owner of Frutas Fita, in the O Calvario market in Vigo.
The increase in the price of gazpacho illustrates a price problem that has spread throughout the shopping cart. The increases began in the autumn of 2021, and accelerated after the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, due to a combination of factors: increases in costs, raw materials and energy, as well as a drought that has reduced supply . In April, the CPI for food moderated to 12.9%, 3.9 points less than in March and the biggest drop in the historical series, which encourages the idea that prices have already reached their ceiling. However, the whole of the shopping cart continues in general with prices at maximums.
González, the Galician shopkeeper, has spent months trying to match the prices of her suppliers, who came to suffer extraordinary fluctuations, with the purchasing power of her clients in a neighborhood with one of the lowest average incomes in the Galician city. “The one who could before, now he can more, and the one who is below has less and less. The middle class is disappearing ”, she laments. In the abundant greengrocers near the market, prices fluctuate, with more affordable products and others more expensive. This variation is key to the final cost of a gazpacho. The experiment that EL PAÍS has carried out, collecting data from stalls in eight markets throughout Spain, is not so much useful for making a comparison between cities (in all of them, surely, you could go to cheaper or more expensive stalls) as it is to do the math Regardless of whether you look for the cheapest product or the one with a higher cost, in the end it is inevitable to pay much more than a year ago.
But this slowdown does not mean that food prices are falling. Although less, they continue to climb. Vegetables, for example, a fundamental component of gazpacho since tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers would fall into this group (even onion, if added), were 11.2% more expensive in April than in the same month of 2022. The INE, which breaks down prices for 200 subclasses of products, does not provide details of all the ingredients of the recipe separately, but it does provide details of olive oil: 22.2% more expensive now than a year ago. Vinegar, which is included in the subclass of sauces and condiments, has risen even more, with an annual increase of 26.3%. Bread and salt, for their part, rose 9.3% and 13.7%, respectively. Although both elements, as is the case with oil, vinegar or garlic, really have little weight in what it ultimately costs to make a gazpacho. The fundamental thing is the price of the tomato, and to a lesser extent, of the other vegetables.
Javier Ibáñez from Aldecoa Fuster, an economist at CaixaBank Research, points out that the increase in food prices is generally more persistent than expected, although he points out that a slowdown is beginning to be detected: “If geopolitical uncertainties and the drought moderate, it would make sense that the prices too. The expert warns that it is possible that prices will not return to 2019 levels, but he does foresee that, in the medium term, there will be a recovery in purchasing power that will offset the increases in the shopping basket.
For José María Sumpsi, emeritus professor at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, the slowdown in the CPI for food in April is largely due to the fact that food consumption in volume is falling and distribution is adjusting prices “to maintain its quota of market”, with an increase in promotions in sight. In April, the demand for food registered a 10% drop, according to calculations by the consulting firm NielsenIQ.
The decline in consumption has not affected Mònica Garcia, 50, who is leaving the Hostafrancs market in Barcelona after shopping for her aunt. “Look, we spent about 100 euros on food and now we are reaching 150 or 160, but buying the same thing,” she explains. “Fortunately we can afford it and we buy the same, but if before we rarely went out for a drink, now we do less.” For Lluís Arenillas, who has had his own stall in the same market since 1986, the price of the fruit and vegetables that he sells is not the problem, but rather the costs of electricity, rent, taxes and the canon that he pays to the market. “The tomatoes go up or down, I always get the same margin, I earn the same,” he says.
Consumers notice the rises. “You leave home with 50 euros and it’s like leaving with nothing, the fruit is very expensive. Milk or peppers are double, we are paying four euros for cauliflowers”, Macaria Blanco and Valentín Vargas, aged 62 and 65, explain with indignation at the Campillo market, in the center of Valladolid.
His claim is similar to the one heard in all markets and is already part of the day-to-day life of many traders. Diego Arencibia, who has a greengrocer in the Central Market of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, explains that “customers complain a lot about the rise in prices. There is not one who does not say anything about it. “Everything is going up,” sums up Soledad, a shop assistant at a greengrocer in the Maravillas market in Madrid. “Cherries are an exception, this year we have them at a good price,” she points out.
The weather is now the great threat. “The 2023 harvests are expected to be very short as a result of the severe drought and excessive heat in March and April, which could mean significant upward pressure on food prices in the coming months, as is already happening made in olive oil and livestock feed”, explains Sumpsi, who is also a member of the High Level Group of Experts of the United Nations World Committee on Food Safety.
The most abundant harvest season for the Spanish countryside arrives, therefore, loaded with uncertainty. The experts do not predict a good campaign, which could have repercussions this summer on the price of tomatoes or the rest of the gazpacho ingredients. In short, the only thing that would currently be cheaper when making the popular recipe is turning on the blender: electricity has become 36.2% cheaper in the last year.
With information from María Fernández (Vigo), Dani Cordero (Barcelona), Guillermo Vega (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria), Eva Saiz (Seville), Cristina Vázquez (Valencia), Juan Navarro (Valladolid) and Mikel Ormazabal (San Sebastián).
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