The prices of crops like potatoes, broccoli and rice are still at record levels, even though food inflation has fallen

Extreme weather events such as this year’s wet winter are still pushing up prices of key food items despite overall inflation dropping this week.

Analysis of recent Office for National Statistics inflation data by the Energy & Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) showed that a basket of foods known to have been affected by extreme weather and climate change – including potatoes, rice, broccoli and coffee – had increased in price by over 40% from £24 to £34 since the start of the cost of living crisis.

Although year-to-date inflation was down, those prices had “stayed near record levels, and for many foods have not come down since they started to rise rapidly in the second half of 2021”, the ECIU said.

Potatoes are up in price by 49%, with a 19% increase since just December 2023. A 2.5kg bag now costs £2.20, up from £1.85 in just a few months, after this year’s wet winter hit the UK potato harvest.

Incessant rain has also affected field vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, which have increased in price by 43% and 32% respectively since 2021, ONS data showed.

The record-breaking drought of 2022 also had a major impact on onions, which are now 27% more expensive than they were in June 2021 at £1.08 per kg, compared with 85p per kg.

The price of a bottle of olive oil has also increased by 136% since June 2021, from £3.64 to £8.60 a bottle, after extreme back-to-back drought hit the olive harvest in Spain.

Similarly, a bag of sugar is up 72% at £1.19 from 69p, partly due to the impact of extreme weather in major global producers such as India and Thailand.

The ECIU’s analysis came after the ONS announced UK CPI inflation was back to the Bank of England target of 2% in May, as food prices fell back during the month compared with a rapid rise a year ago.

Food prices fell 0.3% on a one-month basis in May, compared with an annual rise of 1.7% in the year to May and a 2.9% annual rise in the year to April.

The ONS noted food prices remained “relatively high” but had been stable since early summer 2023, compared with sharp rises over the previous 12 months.

Tom Lancaster, land, food and farming analyst at ECIU, said: “Crops have been left rotting in flooded fields, global harvests have been hit by extreme heat and droughts, and the result is higher prices at the tills.

“These extremes are adding to the cost of living and eroding our food security. This doesn’t end until we stop adding to the problem by bringing emissions down to net zero.”

He added British farmers needed more support “to make their harvests more resilient”.

“Here that means policies that rebuild soil health, expand hedges and plant trees that help to trap and hold flood waters.”

When combined with the impact of fossil fuels and energy costs, it has been estimated that extreme weather linked to climate change added £605 to the average household food bill in 2022 and 2023, with climate impacts accounting for £361 of this.

With the impact of the recent wet winter on this year’s harvest yet to be fully felt, it is “likely that climate change will remain a driver of the cost of living crisis for the rest of the year and beyond”, the ECIU said.