Checks by state bodies in the past month have found markups on food prices of more than 90 per cent, as well as numerous cases of unfair trade practices, it was announced at a March 2 news conference by Bulgarian caretaker government ministers and other officials.
Caretaker Agriculture Minister Yavor Gechev told the news conference that annual food price inflation in January 2023 was 24.5 per cent on an annual basis, after a peak of 26.1 per cent in November.
Gechev said that there were very large margins between wholesale and retail prices.
Having read out examples of items such as yellow cheese, eggs, butter and cucumbers, Gechev said that the margins for some products – such as dairy products – were “inexplicable and even widening”.
This raised suspicions of “extremely high, unjustified high prices”.
The inspections were carried out by the Consumer Protection Commission (CPC), Bulgarian Food Safety Agency and the National Revenue Agency.
Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister Hristo Alexiev said: “We are not declaring war on the retail chains, nor do we want to wage such a war”.
The state had no intention of intervening in the food market, he said.
“The only thing we want to do is to protect the interests of consumers, of vulnerable groups and to make sure that excess profits are not generated on the backs of the population,”Alexiev said.
The CPC inspections had found 452 violations in the course of 471 inspections.
CPC head Stoil Alipiev told the news conference that the most common unfair trade practices included fake “today only at this price” or false “lowest price” claims; discrepancies between the price on the label and the price at the till; customers being lured to supermarkets by promotional prices for products advertised in brochures but on arrival, customers finding that the products were not there; discrepancies in the weight of products; and false labelling of products as Bulgarian when they came, for example, from Turkey.
The 333 inspections by the Bulgarian Food Safety Agency found 32 violations, while the National Revenue Agency took part in 340 inspections and issued 71 penalties.
Alexiev said that the pricing checks would continue, with the aim of setting up permanent monitoring.
“Currently, the inflation curve is going down and this is clearly visible. The food curve is going up. This makes us take all these measures,” he said.
Caretaker Economy and Industry Minister Nikola Stoyanov said that he had held talks with representatives of all along the chain from producers to retailers, and “every participant in the chain blames the others” while no accepted blame.
“There is no logic why the Bulgarian citizen pays such high prices,” Stoyanov said.
Earlier, in an interview with bTV on March 2, Nikola Vulkov, the head of the Association of Modern Trade – which represents major supermarket chains in Bulgaria – said: “The consumer basket in our country is about 30 per cent cheaper than the average for the EU’.
According to Vulkov, one of the reasons why some goods cost less in other countries is that value-added tax on food was lower there.
“There will always be individual goods that at some point in different countries can be found at lower prices. This does not mean that the consumer basket in our country is more expensive,” he said.
(Photo: Bartosz Wacawski/freeimages.com)
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