Price increases hit Cayman

If you’ve been to the petrol station or grocery store in the past month, there’s no way to avoid it: sticker shock.

Gas is hovering near CI $5 a gallon. The price on some of your favourite foods has doubled since the beginning of the year.

And it appears there’s little either businesses or government can do at the moment to relieve the pricing pressure since the drivers of those costs are largely outside local control.

‘It’s going to be tough,’ Foster’s Food Fair Managing Director Woody Foster said. ‘It’s not just the price of rice and oil. Oil touches everything and prices are going up significantly. I don’t think the private sector can handle those increases on top of everything else.’

Groceries aren’t the only ones feeling the pinch. Major hikes in the price of gas and diesel fuel are hitting other merchants as well.

‘(Oil) is definitely a factor,’ said Kirk’s Home Centre manager Paul McGeough. ‘Virtually every single trucking invoice has a fuel surcharge attached to it. Generally, (the prices of all) building materials are going up.’

Mr. McGeough said it was not unusual for Kirk’s to see a $200 or $300 surcharge on a large shipment. Asked whether he thought such costs might be passed on to consumers he said: ‘I think eventually they could.’

According to Cost-U-Less Merchandising Manager Mike Tafoya external costs will drive up prices the longer they stay high. Stores can try to keep prices low for a while and take the loss, but that won’t last forever if they want to stay in business.

‘We as a company are trying to absorb (increased costs),’ Mr. Tafoya said. ‘But there is a point where we’ll have to raise prices if (fuel) stays that high.’

Leader of Government Business Kurt Tibbetts met with some of the island’s major importers Monday afternoon to discuss strategies to keep prices lower where possible. Mr. Tibbetts noted going into the meeting that government already charges no import duty on most staple foods and so might be limited in its ability to control costs.

Mr. Tibbetts also recently stressed the long-term importance of supporting Cayman’s ability to produce at least some of its food products locally.

The food shortages that have plagued other islands in the Caribbean and countries around the world have not affected Cayman, although fears about such shortages have led to some unusual shopping habits of late.

Mr. Tafoya said the Cost-U-Less store actually sold out of 50 pound bags of rice this past weekend. He said decisions to limit the amounts of rice purchased at other bulk stores like Sam’s Club and Costco in the US led to fears that similar measures would be taken here.

He said Cost-U-Less did not take such measures and in any case had plenty of 20 pound bags of rice left. A new shipment of 50 pound bags arrived at the store Monday.

Mr. Foster expected that the Priced Right store near Owen Roberts Airport would not receive a full shipment of rice next week because of international shortages. However, he said he didn’t want that to cause speculation about the product’s continued supply to the island.

‘I don’t know whether it will happen the week after,’ he said.