We all know the price of commodity-based products has gone up. Bread, pasta, milk, cheese: on telly, in the papers and in this magazine, there has been only one direction to this story: up, up, up.
Official figures out this week showed as much: the price of food rising at its fastest rate for 14 years. But what's this? The price of a loaf of Kingsmill white bread has actually fallen in the past five weeks, from 99p to 93p on average - 20p less than Hovis - while Warburtons is flatlining at a quid. It's all most odd. Aren't bread prices going up across the board, being passed on from manufacturers to retailers and from retailers to consumers, as food analyst Andrew Saunders suggested (see p4)?
Apparently not. And this has got industry experts flummoxed. So what could have happened? Did Associated British Foods (ABF) buy up a job lot of wheat in the futures market in 2007 BC? Is it buying market share in a bid to stem the steady loss of sales to Warburtons over the years? One thing it has achieved is a dent in Premier's trading profits in the past two months, as it reported in a trading statement this week. How annoying is that? You negotiate a much-needed price hike from your customers - and then watch as your market share plummets.
But while experts rule out a loss-leading play by the supermarkets, I wouldn't dismiss it entirely. Bread is a footfall driver, as well as a staple. So they may well be taking it on the chin: accepting price increases from the manufacturers, but keeping the retail price of a selected brand down to attract customers. And, like flies to wanton boys, the multiples can simultaneously play off these multibillion-pound bread manufacturers - one against the other.