When mother of two Stephanie Fabri lost her job during the COVID-19 pandemic, she figured they could live off her husband’s salary until she found work. Unfortunately, Stephanie now has another hurdle to face — steep price hikes.
Her family has been living on basics for the past few weeks, eating pasta or just simply bread and butter. Her two sons, aged seven and five, are too young to understand but they don’t complain about eating pasta, she joked.
“In March, our government realized that families were feeling the pinch so we all received a one-time payment of 100 euros (104 U.S. dollars), which helped a lot but it was gone far too soon,” Stephanie told Xinhua.
Before the food price hikes kicked in, Stephanie’s family was in for the blow that her husband, a car salesman, was told his salary would have to be reduced by 25 percent due to slowdown in the production of cars.
Many feared that Europe would take the brunt of the spillover due to its proximity to the Ukraine crisis and its reliance on Russian energy. However, with the conflict evolving and jolting markets worldwide, global consumers are also feeling the pain.
The annual rate of inflation as measured by the Harmonized Index of Consumer Prices (HICP) in Malta reached 4.5 percent in March, while the inflation rate for food and non-alcoholic beverages climbed up to 8.7 percent compared with a year ago, according to figures issued by the Maltese National Statistics Office.
The Maltese government has promised to keep the prices of electricity and fuels unchanged and is making up for the difference in the price of wheat. Even so, the price hike will constantly pinch into the pockets of more and more families.
Darren Chircop and his wife Flavia are no exceptions. “I used to spend around 100 euros a week on food, including during the pandemic, but now I’m easily spending close to 300 euros,” Chircop said.
“We’ve cut down on going out because even restaurants put up their prices,” added Flavia.
In some supermarkets, certain products like sunflower oil, a major export of Ukraine, were even bought in bulk and then re-sold at higher prices in smaller grocery stores, which forced the supermarkets to impose restrictions.
“It was not fair on our established clients. It’s not because we’re running out of stocks or because of the price increases. We imposed restrictions to limit people’s selfishness,” said a supermarket owner.
Jason Grima, who imports foodstuffs, said his company too was facing stiff increases in the cost of freight. “The cost of a container has increased fivefold so it’s obvious that the price increase is passed on to the consumer,” he said.
Malta, an island country in the Mediterranean, must use ships or air freight to import goods. It is thus exposed to the rising freight rates, which push up the prices of imported goods.
“I want to remain competitive but, at the end of the day, this is my business and my bread and butter. I have a family at home, too,” Grima said.