The government is being urged to act on soaring food costs – employers must also respond if they can.

According to new figures released today by the Which? consumer group, some meat and vegetable lines at supermarkets have almost doubled in price over the past year.

Although some other household costs are starting to fall, rising costs of bread and cereals and other foodstuffs mean the upward cost trend is likely to continue. Helen Dickinson, Chief Executive of the British Retail Consortium has warned, “Shop price inflation has yet to peak”.  

This is unwelcome news for employees after two years of tightening their belts and swapping brands for supermarket labels – which the research says are rising in price the fastest.

Hybrid working has also impacted the usual ways that employers support staff wellbeing and healthy eating. Remote workers aren’t in the office to use a free or subsidised canteen or for the weekly free fruit drop.   

For employers committed to supporting employees through the cost-of-living crisis, the message is clear. Many people are going to be feeling the pinch of rising food costs for some time, and the crisis is far from over.

Set up a benefits scheme specific to food

Employers that want to show they understand and support employees on this critical issue must find a way to get money into employee’s pockets, quickly and securely. The other challenge is to ensure any financial support they provide is ringfenced for food.

This is where rewards and benefits professionals come into play. For example, schemes built around eGift card and pre-paid cards are a flexible and easy-to-manage solution for the current situation. Such platforms typically include access to hundreds of brands, including travel, leisure, fashion and homeware – but crucially, access can be limited to supermarkets and a wide range of restaurants, cafes, and food delivery services.

This helps to address the issues that some households on tighter budgets will prioritise paying rent/mortgage, energy and council tax bills over food.

Make your food support plan part of your wider support package

When organisations do offer support specific to food, it’s also important that they recognise that they are likely to be targeting many people who are being hit by the cost of living crisis the most. In-work poverty is at its highest level since records began in 1996. This is a highly personal issue.

To drive take-up, ongoing communications should of course focus on providing practical information to employees on how they can redeem the benefit as well as how easy the process is.  

But more importantly, employers should think about including regular, personalised messages about additional resources that are available to employees – such as financial education, EAP or other programmes of support that they offer through their financial wellbeing hub.

The release of the new Which? research follows an Office of National Statistics announcement last month that said food inflation is currently at the highest level its been since the 1970s. The government is being urged to act by lobby groups. Employers must also act if they can – but also make sure they do so in a way that aligns with their wider approach to supporting financial and mental wellbeing.

 

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