While the first priority for Irish shoppers is prices they have to pay in Ireland, for farmers and exporters, UK prices and consumer budgets are also particularly important given the volume and value of our exports to that market.

As Figure 1 illustrates, food price inflation wasn’t an issue for much of the past decade and, in fact, until the middle of 2021, food prices were as likely to fall in the monthly statistics from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) as they were to increase.

All this changed in late 2021, but it was the events of early 2022 that pushed inflation generally and food prices in particular into overdrive.

As Figure 1 shows, they peaked at 19.2% in March 2023 and since then have been on a downward trajectory, reaching 7% last month which is still historically high and almost twice the rate of general UK inflation, which was 4% last month.

However, what is significant is that it is a fall from 8% in December 2023 and the first call recorded by the ONS since September 2021.

Impact of high food prices

Food price inflation is a real catch 22 situation for farmers. The surge in energy costs in the aftermath of Russia invading Ukraine meant farm input costs soared and farmers' cost of production reached record highs.

With costs spiralling, prices had to increase, even though retailers made huge efforts to suppress supplier price increases.

Farmers, of course, welcome necessary price increases, but with food price inflation, combined with all the other consumer cost of living increases, consumers had to be even more discerning about the products they put in their shopping basket or choose when eating out.

Beef, lamb and value-added dairy purchases are what might be described as discretionary consumer purchases. That means that they are nice to have in the weekly shop as opposed to essential.


Lower-cost pig and poultry meat easily substitutes for beef and lamb, while own-brand dairy products can easily replace the higher-cost own-label versions.

All of this means that in a period of high food price inflation and what is referred to as a cost-of-living crisis, consumers are less likely to choose beef, lamb or high-value dairy than to substitute for a cheaper alternative.

That means less demand for the expensive products, leaving Irish farms for the UK marketplace - which is the single largest market for Irish beef and dairy markets, though somewhat less important for sheepmeat.

Farmers are therefore caught between needing more money for their produce and risking losing market share because it becomes too expensive for consumers to buy.