Pricewatch 2018: How the year unfolded for Irish consumers
Remember the hosepipe ban? That and other distant memories from the year just gone
Evelyn Gaynor, store manager at Veritas, with some of the range of Pope Francis memorabilia and souvenirs on sale at on Dublin’s Abbey Street. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
Consumers were warned not to buy products that wrongly claimed to be able to test for food intolerances, and pharmacies were told to stop offering food-intolerance testing. The Health Products Regulatory Authority said people should not act on the results of such tests after a review of widely available kits showed there “is no single test to diagnose food intolerance”.
There was great news for wine lovers: research indicated that a couple of glasses of vino at the end of a busy day would not only relax the mind but also clean it, by flushing out toxins. The study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, also showed that excessive consumption could have the opposite effect.
Fears that consumers could be short-changed when buying so-called commemorative coins, to mark the prompted a Central Bank of Ireland crackdown. The regulator said any such product cashing in on the centenary of the foundation of the State should instead be described as a medal.
In a sign that consumers were returning to their precrash ways, sales of branded goods climbed by 4 per cent, the first time in four years that brands grew more than own labels. The retail analyst Kantar Worldpanel also noted that consumers had become less inclined to shop around.
The Beast from the East arrived – and, along with bringing mountains of snow, made our daily bread disappear. There was panic buying across the country. During the same stretch of snow and stormy weather, a Lidl in west Dublin was partially demolished by looters using a mechanical digger.
Krispy Kreme announced plans to open its first Irish store in the autumn, a drive-through in Blanchardstown, in northwest Dublin.
It was reported that a hard Brexit – which still seemed only a remote possibility – could cost Irish households up to €1,400 a year. The Economic and Social Research Institute looked at more than 4,500 products imported from Britain and found that the prices of bread and cereals in the Republic could rise by up to 30 per cent, with milk, cheese and eggs up 46 per cent.
For the first time in a very long time, Irish pubs and restaurants were allowed to open and sell alcohol on Good Friday. The last day of March was a good Friday – but hardly a great one – with many publicans saying business was quieter than a normal Friday.
The first major supermarket price survey in a decade showed variations of up to 50 per cent in the cost of own-brand goods. Retail analysts Grant Thornton carried out the survey on behalf of Aldi, which – unsurprisingly – did well out of it. SuperValu was found to be the most expensive for a basket of 62 randomly selected, commonly bought groceries. That retailer was furious and questioned the validity of the comparisons while Lidl threatened legal action.
Laya Healthcareissued a study which found Irish workers to be deprived of sleep and strapped for cash but surprisingly sober. It found that almost 80 per cent of Irish employees said they were suffering from lack of sleep, 24 per cent said they regularly struggled financially from pay day to pay day, and 53 per cent said they experienced “general anxiety” at least some of the time. Less than 1 per cent of men said they crank more than 17 standard drinks a week.
Families in Ireland were found to spend significantly more on junk food than on fruit and vegetables in a damning report into family shopping habits published by Safefood, the HSE and Healthy Ireland. It indicated that 19 per cent of the average weekly food shop goes on highly processed “treat” foods like crisps, chocolates and sweets. By contrast only 10 per cent of the weekly spend goes on fruit and just 7 per cent is spent on vegetables.
Irish drinkers who stick to HSE limits on alcohol consumption were still putting their health at risk and anything over a bottle of wine or five pints a week could lead to an earlier death, according to a report carried by The Lancet. It said recommended alcohol limits should be lowered to no more than 100g of alcohol, which equates to 10 standard drinks a week for both men and women.
The holiday plans of thousands of families travelling to France for their summer holidays were thrown into disarray after Irish Ferries cancelled bookings on its WB Yeats ferry which had been scheduled to depart in July.
A sugar sweetened drink tax was introduced and heralded in some quarters as the “most important day yet in fight against childhood obesity” although critics said it would be ineffective. Soft drinks with 5-8g of sugar per 100ml became subject to a tax of 20 cent per litre while drinks with more than 8g of sugar per 100ml attract a levy of 30 cent per litre. The tax added 60 cent on to the price of a 2-litre bottle of Coca Cola and similar sugar-sweetened drinks.
Barry’s Tea said it was looking at ways to remove plastics from its current range of teabags and make them compostable “as speedily as possible”. The company confirmed that it had been carrying out trials with its filter paper supplier as an online petition calling on the Co Cork company to make more environmentally friendly products gathered momentum.
Marks and Spencer rolled out long-term price cuts averaging 24 per cent across about 200 of its key product lines. Describing the move as “its biggest-ever price investment in the Republic” in almost 40 years, some of the cuts announced brought the price of staples including milk, bread and eggs into line with those offered by German discounters Aldi and Lidl.
A €2 billion Bus Connects scheme was published which the National Transport Authority said would almost halve some commuting times. But the 16 new high-speed routes would also affect more than 1,000 homes with some residents losing gardens and parking places. Many more would lose direct bus routes to the city centre.
A Visa card outage caused problems across Ireland and Europe creating long queues at ATMs as people found themselves unable to make cashless transactions.
The Dublin Airport Authority – buoyed by the success of a similar system for bottled water on the concourse – rolled out an Honest Eats Co fridge, stocked with sandwiches, wraps, salads, pastries, snacks and drinks. No staff manned the fridge and passengers were allowed pick whatever they wanted, scan it and pay for it via a cashless self-service checkout.
New plans aimed at introducing a minimum expiry date of five years for all gift vouchers were announced by the Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys. While the minister did not outline a precise timeline for when the proposals will become law, she said they were at “an advanced stage” and would be brought to Government “as soon as possible”.
People over the age of 60 were at their happiest when married with young children, while those currently married with young children believe the most joyous stage of their lives was when they were young and single.
Many thousands more people who had planned to travel to France saw their holiday plans thrown into disarray after Irish Ferries cancelled all bookings for August and September on its new WB Yeats ferry. It was the second time in as many months Irish Ferries has been forced to cancel thousands of bookings with company again blaming “extraordinary circumstances beyond its control”.
Ryanair called for an early morning booze ban at airports after a group of Irish-based holidaymakers forced an Ibiza-bound Ryanair flight from Dublin to divert to Paris. The group of up to 20 holidaymakers were involved in the drink-fuelled disturbance after which three passengers were removed and detained by French police . The call was labelled “highly draconian” by the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA).
Ryanair was fighting wars on multiple fronts as its pilots engaged in a series of stoppages across Europe although the airline was largely successful in reducing the impact on the flying public.
Hundreds of thousands of Irish consumers were said to be missing out on big savings from telecom service providers because they had an “extreme reluctance” to shop around. ESRI research indicated that as many as 57 per cent of consumers had never switched from one company to another despite the efforts of regulators to encourage shopping around and to make switching easier.
The public’s views on fees imposed by retailers and companies that issue gift vouchers are being sought as part of a consultation launched by the Minister for Enterprise Heather Humphreys.
A hose pipe ban was introduced as a heatwave continued. There was no shortage of beer however and Irish consumers were not found wanting when it came to consumption. They bought more than seven million more pints of beer since the start of the summer than they did a year earlier with the sunny weather and the World Cup in Russia combing to see lager sales sky-rocket across Irish supermarkets.
While lager sales jumped by more than 11 per cent, bottled water increased by an even more dramatic 27 per cent as consumers looked to stay hydrated in the heat.
A Guinness-swilling, Irish dancing Francis and a solar-powered dancing Pontiff were among the more “Popeular” products for sale across Dublin in the run up to the Papal visit as retailers big and small sought to cash in on the arrival of Pope Francis by selling merchandise with – sometimes very tenuous - papal connections.
Irish consumers were found to be paying more for gas and electricity than the vast majority of households across the EU. The data from the EU statistical agency Eurostat showed gas prices in the Republic were the second highest in the EU at just under 10 cent per kilowatt hour, behind only Sweden. Electricity prices here were the fourth highest in the EU at over 20 cent per kilowatt hour, behind only Belgium, Denmark and Portugal.
The plastic security trays handled by virtually everyone who makes their way through an airport play host to the greatest number of viruses, according to pandemic experts from the University of Nottingham and the Finnish National Institute for Health and Welfare. They swabbed multiple surfaces at Helsinki-Vantaa airport at peak-times during the winter of 2016 and found evidence of viruses on 10 per cent of areas tested. The most common virus detected was the rhinovirus which causes the common cold but swabs also picked up the influenza A virus.
Irish millennials looked to be increasingly glum about their emotional and financial prospects, with most telling researchers they did not think they would ever scale the heights reached by their parents. Deloitte’s annual millennial survey indicated only 40 per cent of the cohort believed they would be financially better off than their parents, while only 31 per cent thought they would be happier.
The reason bread disappeared from supermarket shelves across the State ahead of the arrival of the Beast from the East was because Irish consumers viewed it as a “symbol of safety”. The organisers of National Bread Week commissioned research into what prompted the panic buying. As well as prompting feelings of comfort among consumers as the storms descended, the acquisition of bread was encouraged by social media and buying bread allowed people to feel they were part of a wider community with a single purpose, the study suggested.
An Post announced plans to enter the Irish mortgage market in 2019 with interest rates which were substantially lower than those currently available.
Lidl announced plans to remove packaging which cannot be recycled from its entire fruit and vegetable range across all its stores in Ireland before Christmas. The supermarket is also taking all single use plastic items such as straws and disposable plates, cups and cutlery off its shelves.
Consumers were found to be too easily bamboozled by promotional material for mortgages, credit cards and insurance products, and frequently look at top-line figures without thinking too much about what is the best value in the long term according to the ESRI.
Meanwhile, the people at Switcher found that consumers could save more than €1,100 over the next 12 months by switching a range of service providers, but despite the scale of savings available and the best intentions to be more proactive, most people would not move.
Businesses on the new Dublin edition of Monopoly paid for their places on the board, prompting the advertising watchdog to accuse the game makers of “lacking transparency”. There was no indication on the game, aimed largely at children, that any of the companies, schools, service providers or retail outlets paid the makers, Winning Moves, for inclusion. By contrast, the Advertising Standards Authority of Ireland (ASAI) imposes strict product placement rules across media platforms.
Thousands of couples getting married next year will see their wedding costs climb by hundreds of euro as a result of the VAT changes affecting the hospitality sector outlined in the recent budget. From the beginning of next year the hospitality sector will revert to paying VAT at 13.5 per cent after an extended seven-year break on a 9 per cent rate.
It was reported that Irish smartphone users appeared to be waking up to the realisation that they are overly reliant on their devices and could be scaling back their usage marginally, although more than one in 10 still admit to looking at their phones more than 100 times a day. The research from Deloitte suggested that the average Irish phone user picks up their phone 55 times every day – down from 57 times last year.
Up to 100,000 people were likely to be paying in excess of €100 a year on insurance cover for mobile phones and other devices which they no longer use, a report from the Central Bank revealed. Its inspection of firms selling gadget insurance questioned the clarity and quality of information given to consumers on what polices cover and what steps must be taken to make claims.
Breakfast cereal maker Kellogg’s said it was adopting the colour-coded ‘traffic light’ nutrition labelling system on the front of its boxes from the beginning of next year. The new labelling will start to appear from January as the cereal maker undertakes a redesign of all its boxes.
Plans to introduce legislation stopping companies from charging maintenance fees on gift cards or selling vouchers with expiry limits of less than five years faltered amid intense lobbying from the largest gift voucher company in the State.
Reports of the death of Irish retail appear to have been somewhat exaggerated, with data published suggesting that Irish households will spend just under €2,700 on average this month, up 3 per cent on last year’s festive season.
Transatlantic passengers on Aer Lingus flights who ignore repeated requests to turn off their phones or switch them to flight mode risk being hit with sky-high roaming charges even if they never look at their devices while on board the plane. Aer Lingus confirmed that passengers who failed to switch their phones to flight mode could be hit with unexpectedly high bills but stressed it was not making any money as a result. It said it could not be held accountable if passengers ignored clear instructions.