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23rd Mar 2022

Food bank users decline potatoes because ‘they can’t afford to boil them’, Iceland boss says

Ava Evans

Soaring food and energy costs are taking their toll

The boss of a supermarket chain has said food bank users are declining potatoes and root vegetables because “they can’t afford the energy to boil them”.

Richard Walker, the Managing Director of Iceland, said rising energy bills were pushing many people onto the brink of catastrophe.

Ahead of Rishi Sunak’s 2022 Spring Statement on Wednesday afternoon, pleas are mounting to help millions who could soon have to choose between food and fuel – as soaring bills, taxes and produce costs threaten to pinch the purse of many ordinary people.

“I think the cost of living crisis is the single most important domestic issue we are facing as a country,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“We are hearing of some food bank users declining potatoes and root veg because they can’t afford the energy to boil them”.

Walker said the supermarket chain had 1,000 stores in some of the “poorest communities” in the UK and Ireland – and has been working to absorb some of the skyrocketing costs that were driving up food prices.

But he added the business was not able “to soak up” extra costs like an “endless sponge”, and said a government intervention in rising energy bills would mean the supermarket chain could pass on better prices to consumers.

Walker said other aspects of the business had also been exposed to higher costs – such as the national wage, higher transportation costs, shortages of fertiliser from Russia and sunflower oil from Ukraine.

“National Minimum Wage will increase our cost base by 20 million quid,” he said.

“We have green taxation of £16 million next year, and we have, of course, electricity bills which are going to rise many times over, and that will disproportionately affect bricks and mortar retailers, such as ourselves.”

This morning, the Office of National Statistics reported a stark rise in the consumer price index – hitting 6.2 per cent in February, up from 5.5 per cent the previous month.

It’s the highest annual increase in prices since March 1992.

Meanwhile, the retail price index hit 8.2 per cent – its highest in 31 years.

The figures paint a bleak picture for households around the UK who face mounting pressure on finances as spiralling energy and food prices will soon spark a slump in living standards.

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