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Are Spaniards changing their diets due to rising food costs?

Rising food prices in Spain have forced some consumers to pivot away from some of the staples of a traditional Spanish diet in order to save money.

Are Spaniards changing their diets due to rising food costs?
To combat the crippling price rises, Spaniards are now buying less fresh food and stocking up on cheaper, non-perishable foods. Photo: Pixabay.

Rising food prices caused by inflation mean that Spaniards are now buying less food, paying more for it, and even changing their diets.

Although inflation in Spain has, thankfully, started to slowly flatline in recent months (the CPI figure has even begun to fall, according to Spain’s consumer watchdog, the OCU) food prices have yet to decrease and are continuing to rise.

According to the latest figures from Spain’s National Institute of Statistics (INE), the year-on-year food price index rise is 15.3 percent. In a supermarket price study carried out by the OCU, the watchdog concluded that 2022’s rises represented the largest single annual increase in 34 years.

In cash terms, the OCU estimates that the average spending on food for Spanish families in 2022 was around €830 more than in previous years.

As a result, Spaniards are, perhaps unsurprisingly, being forced to change their diets and even moving away from some of the staples of the traditional Mediterranean diet, with what were once considered basic foodstuffs and are now luxury items.

According to figures from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, consumption declined by almost 9 percent (8.8) per capita between November 2021 and October 2022, while food spending has fallen by 2.5 percent.

The situation, in fact, has become so severe that the Spanish government recently approved a VAT reduction on basic food products beginning at the start of 2023.

READ ALSO: Spain axes VAT on basic foods to ease inflation pain

Though the cost of living crisis has hit consumers across the economy, particularly on energy and fuel bills, it has perhaps been felt most severely, or noticeably at least, in their shopping baskets.

Price rises

If you’ve been into a Mercadona or Consum recently, you’ve probably seen this firsthand and noticed that prices have skyrocketed in the last year.

In that same period from November 2021, the price of bread has increased by 14.9 percent in Spain; fruit by 9.2 percent and vegetables by a staggering 25.7 percent. The price of sugar grew by 42.8 percent.

The cost of milk has risen by around 30 percent year-on-year, eggs by 26 percent, and olive oil by another 30 percent, according to the OCU. 

The price of meat has risen by 14 percent on average.

Changing diet

According to the government figures, the rising prices have not only affected how much Spaniards are eating (or buying, at least) but also what they eat. 

To combat the crippling price rises, Spaniards are now buying less fresh food and stocking up on cheaper, non-perishable items.

The cost of living crisis is, in other words, changing the Spanish diet. Overall meat consumption, for example, has fallen by 12.4 percent, with beef consumption dropping by 18.1 percent and frozen meat by 19.2 percent. Chicken consumption has fallen by 13.8 percent.

Pork purchases, usually the cheapest meat people buy, fell by slightly less, by 10 percent, and fresh fish consumption has also fallen by 16.3 percent, while frozen fish has fallen by 13 percent. The purchase of fresh vegetables and fruit has fallen by 14.5 and 12.2 percent respectively.

Demand for dairy products fell by 6.5 percent, with households reducing their milk consumption by almost 6 percent (5.8) and dairy products overall by 7.4 percent.

As a result, it seems Spaniards are substituting these more expensive products with cheaper ones such as more carbohydrates. Pasta and legume purchases, for example, have fallen by just 1.4 percent and 2.2 percent respectively in that same period, whereas rice sales fell by just 3.6 percent. Bread consumption fell by 7 percent.

If you live in Spain, you’ll probably know that it’s common for Spaniards to eat meat or fish with every meal, whereas now many families might have cut down their consumption to a few times a week in order to save on costs. The figures for falling meat consumption (of all types) certainly suggest this.

VAT cuts

At the end of 2022, the Spanish government announced VAT reductions (IVA in Spain) on food products considered essential. These included bread, milk, cheese, egg, fruits, vegetables and legumes, which are all benefiting from VAT decreases from 4 percent to 0 percent, while oil and cereals will be cut from 10 percent to 5 percent.

Meat and fish, however, were not included and the decision has sparked criticism from many sectors involved in the food and retail industries. 

Speaking to Spanish media, the General Secretary of the Union of Small Farmers and Cattle breeders (UPA) bemoaned the exclusion of meat and fish from the VAT cut: “We are disappointed that meat and fish are not included,” they said, “as they are basic necessities that should be included in the reduction so that the most vulnerable families can have access to them. It makes no sense that only the wealthiest people can consume them”. 

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Droughts threaten Spain’s iconic jamón ibérico

Climate change is threatening the production of one of Spain's most famous gastronomical delights - its much-loved cured ham.

Droughts threaten Spain's iconic jamón ibérico

Every year around 6 million cured pigs’ legs are sold in Spain, according to the country’s Association of Iberian Pigs (Asici). Jamón, whether as a tapas dish or proudly displayed as a full leg in someone’s kitchen over Christmas, is about as Spanish as it gets.

Along with tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and paella, it is probably the most iconic food offered by Spanish gastronomy. 

READ ALSO: The ultimate guide to buying a leg of ‘jamón’ in Spain at Christmas

But Spain’s world-renowned jamón ibérico is facing increasingly tough market conditions and now the iconic Spanish cured ham could be under threat from droughts.

In the summer of 2022, Spain was scorched by record temperatures and its reservoirs were drained. Though the water levels of Spanish reservoirs began to refill during the rainier winter months, and are already at 50.9 percent of their capacity, according to the latest data, climate change makes it likely that Spain will suffer high heat and droughts more frequently during its summers – something that could have a big impact on the jamón industry.

Know your jamones

An important point on jamón you’ll usually find either jamón serrano or ibérico, with the latter being considered of a higher standard and taste, as it’s from a Spanish breed of cerdo ibérico (Iberian pig) which eat only acorns that are rich in oleic acid (a healthy fat) and the process by which the meat is cured is more artisanal.

And acorns are where the problem comes in.

Put simply, droughts are shrinking the areas where pigs graze and reducing the number of acorns, which in turn reduces the weight of the pigs. When combined with all the other various external economic pressures, the jamón business is quickly becoming unprofitable

“The pigs lack weight and it restricts us quite a lot,” Rodrigo Cárdeno, from Explotaciones Agropecuarias Cárdeno, told Spanish news outlet RTVE. “We are talking about an animal that should be 90kg going into October and leave in January at around 150 kilos.”

READ MORE: How drought is threatening Spain’s ‘green gold’ harvest

In certain parts of Spain, farmers have been forced to increase their grazing land to be able to maintain the slaughter this season, which can often be around 3,000 acorn-fed pigs per season.

Some farms, however, have not been able to do this and have had to reduce the number of pigs as a result.

Both options hit profitability, in addition to the broader pressures on production and energy costs felt by all sectors.

“We are heading towards the ruin of the sector, expenses have equalled income and it is a disaster,” Emilio Muñoz, manager of Ilunion Ibéricos de Arzuaga, in Grandada, explained to RTVE.

As a result, experts estimate that 20 percent fewer acorn-fed pigs will be slaughtered this season than last.

Price rises

It is likely the shortage will have an impact on the price of jamón ibérico moving forward. 

“This means that in four years’ time, when these acorn-fed pigs reach the market, there will be less available and it will be a scarcer product,” Alfredo Subietas, general manager of Ilunion Ibéricos Arzuaga, told the news channel.

This is a price increase that will be passed onto consumers, so if you want to enjoy the best jamón ibérico in the future, you’ll likely have to pay even more.