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Friday, February 24, 2017

CSO index points to economic prosperity - you can even see it in our shopping baskets



It’s a long way from avocados we were reared, but this year our shopping baskets will be full of them.

 This week, the Central Statistics Office (CSO) released its Consumer Price Index (CPI), which is the official indicator of inflation in Ireland.
The CPI has a shopping basket format where commonly purchased household items are tracked. It is carried out every five years and we have looked at the index from 1926 to 2017 to see how our spending habits have changed as a nation.
This year’s basket included items such as champagne and fine wines, indicating more prosperous times — a far cry from the pigs’ heads and jam of the 1920s shopper.
The CSO lists items that have been added to or removed from the basket, so it is an easy way to track food or technology fads through our shopping habits. Items are added or deleted based on their increased or decreased popularity, therefore warranting an inclusion or exclusion.
Back in 1926, we were keen meat eaters, including various cuts of mutton and beef in our diet. And despite what folklore might say, we didn’t live off potatoes alone, as two different types of rice were included in the CPI for the years between 1926 and 1931.
Other common non-food household items are included in the basket and the five-year span often reflects rapid technological change.
In some CPIs, video players and movie rentals were added, due to a surge in popularity. However, within five or 10 years these items had fallen out of favour and therefore out of the basket as we switched our attention to the likes of streaming services and hard drives.
From one CPI basket to the next, pressure cookers would fall out (2002) and the George Foreman health-grill (2007) would be added in.
The arc of the Celtic Tiger to the crash can be easily tracked by looking at our shopping basket from the 1997-2002 one, right through to 2007-2012 one.
You can see where we went home-improvement mad in the boom with power tools and DIY equipment proving popular, to being busy baby making in the bust, with pregnancy testing kits being added into the 2012 basket.
And it was 2012 that the nation’s new love of cycling was first revealed with cycling helmets added to the basket, as were Smart TVs and tablets, while the fizz had gone out of our relationship with champagne and it was removed from the basket.
Health fads can also be tracked over the course of the CPIs, such as this year’s inclusion of the avocado or 2012’s addition of the fruit smoothie and gluten-free products. Or when we started using olive oil, ditching clock radios, or buying bigger and better TVs.
In order to collect the data, the CSO rely on people known as “field pricers”, who they get to download an app onto their smartphone and track the price of items every month in their shopping basket. It also gathers data on things such as airfares and motor insurance.
With vaping products in and disposable cameras out, God only knows what we will be in our baskets in 2022.

1926
This basket reflected a very different Ireland. Beef was listed in this year’s basket and under headings such as neck, liver, sirloin, shoulder and corned brisket. We also ate mutton and bacon was listed as a commonly purchased household item in the form of streaky rashers, American and Irish styles. We also bought pig’s head. Fish was big on the agenda in Irish homes, from cod steak to fresh herring.
Butter was categorised according to being sourced from a creamery or a farmer. Margarine was under headings first or second grade, as was lard.
Interestingly tea was split between ‘best’ and ‘cheapest’.
While we bought potatoes we also ate rice. We had very little sweet items in our kitchens, but sugar and strawberry jam did make the cut.
2002
This basket perhaps reflects the greatest cultural change where Ireland moved from its meat-and-three-veg culture to a more Mediterranean one. Food that fell from the basket include tinned meat products, smoked kippers, dried peas and instant mash or dried potatoes. We also stopped buying those small school milk cartons and tins of condensed milk in 2002.
The sewing machine and pressure cooker also fell out of the basket and 2002 saw the year when we finally stopped renting TVs. What was added into the Irish shopping basket though, was garlic, garlic bread, olive oil, chilled convenience food and specialist breads. We also started buying coleslaw and prepared salads.
2007
This basket tracked the changes from the crazed boom years between 2002 and 2007, think home improvements and plenty of partying. Self-tanning products were added to the 2007 basket as was the health grill. We lived faster and our convenient food choices reflected this gear change with cereal breakfast bars and chilled ready-to-eat meals being added to the basket.
It was also the year we went home improvement mad with DIY power tools, ladders and steps, decorative home accessories and cushions all being added. Technology wise, we stopped buying video recorders and radio/ CD players but instead bought blank DVDs and home-cinema surround sound systems.
2012
Smart TVs, tablets and memory cards were all part of what we were buying in 2012. Hard drives and MP4 docking stations were also added in. Leaving the basket in 2012 were CDs (singles as opposed to albums), DVD players, DVD rentals and TV repairs. While 2017, was the year that saw the addition of champagne, 2012 was the year that we say goodbye to the bubbly with it falling out of that year’s basket. We also said goodbye to fine wines and round steak. Added to the 2012 basket were cycling helmets, non-fiction books, berries and gluten-free products.
2017

In 2017, the most notable addition to our national shopping basket was the take-home bottle of champagne. Craft beers were also added to this year’s basket. Food wise, sweet potatoes, melons and avocados were all included, as were fish-based ready meals. Hake was also added to the basket. Streaming services and e-readers were added to the basket and clock radios, disposable cameras, photography development and memory cards were all removed from it. Other interesting additions include the e-cigarette and stockbroker fees.
Joyce Fegan