STAFF REPORTER

BARCELONA
CONSUMERS nationwide are complaining about the steeply rising price of seasonal food this year, leaving some families unable to buy what they were able to afford in 2006. “This year, everything is up in the air,” said one regular client at Barcelona's Ninot market. A chorus of neighbours and accompanying shoppers joined in, nodding and saying “it's now impossible to purchase the things we have been used to at Christmas in years gone by.” The usual suppliers' excuse, add the customers, that heavy seasonal demand forces prices up is no longer valid “because this year costs have gone sky-high out of all proportion.” The same disgruntled atmosphere pervades around the markets of Madrid. Christmas shoppers are saying that “everything has gone up,” but “it's really noticeable in meats and shellfish,” two of the most popular seasonal foods.

Consumers are really feeling the pinch after inflation bit hard last month with a 4.1 percent increase, positioning the accumulated rate for 2007 at 3.8 percent. Very much aware of public discontent, the Spanish government gave advice a few days ago with Josep Puxeu, Agriculture and Food secretary urging consumers to purchase rabbit, the meat of which is “healthy, light, very appetising and cheap,” in contrast to the more traditional seasonal meats of turkey, suckling pig and lamb. But the public didn't take too kindly to his suggestion. “Well, let Mr. Zapatero eat rabbit then,” said a Barcelona market shopper. “That's not the solution!” The majority of consumer associations agree on the fact that it is not up to the government to dictate to the public what they should, or should not eat, and that the Administration should be concentrating more on what they are going to do about inflation. During the four weeks which encompass the run up to Christmas, and the Feast of the Three Kings at the end of the first week in January, Spaniards spend about 30 percent more than they usually do on comestibles, which translates to an average of an extra 85 euros over and above a normal monthly checkout bill.

Meanwhile, as we get closer to Christmas, food prices are still going up according to supply and demand with fish being forecast to get dearer still at the end of the week by as much as between 5 and 10 percent of today's prices. The same is true of fruit which is traditionally popular at this time of year such as grapes and pineapple which are also expected to get dearer, particularly towards year end when the Spanish see in the New Year by eating a grape for every chord struck at the midnight hour. Another fruit that has increased significantly in price is the Majorcan fig - in fact by no less than 70 percent. Dates, fortunately, are keeping their price on an even keel at 4.80 euros per kilo.

Prawns and ham are items which are never lacking from the festive table; for those with exquisite taste, Majorcan prawns are on the wet fish slabs at 89 euros a kilo and a good jamón serrano will set you back up to 180 euros a kilo. Lamb has become more expensive to the tune of an extra 5 euros a kilo and turkey has gone up by around 10 percent.

Milk-based products including cheese, cream and yoghurt are amongst those products which have undergone important price increases this year, rising by about 50 percent.

As a result Tomme de Mijoule cheese has gone up by 42 euros a kilo and Mahones semi-cured cheese from Minorca is now 7.5 euros a kilo more expensive. It is further predicted to go up a further 18 percent by 2008.

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