The price of ginger has left a bad taste in consumers’ mouths after demand caused prices to rocket, with experts comparing the trend to the beetroot and garlic craze of the HIV crisis.
A popular ingredient in home remedies to soothe sore throats and the common cold, the root has seen an explosion in popularity due to the Covid-19 and its supposed ability to mitigate symptoms.
Dr. Chantell Witten, registered dietitian at the University of the Free State and nutrition lead for the South African Civil Society for Women’s, Adolescents’ and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH), said there was a current trend to consume large amounts of ginger, beyond its traditional use as a spice.
“In line with South Africa’s healthy eating guidelines, we support the increased intake for plant-based foods,” Witten said. “But we are concerned with the increased demand for ginger which by popular belief has been positioned as a home remedy for Covid. This is pushing up prices, despite no evidence to support these claims.”
Witten likened the trend to the HIV crisis in the 1990s and 2000s, during which time garlic and beetroot were promoted as remedies by government officials, prior to the rollout of antiretroviral drugs.
“Given that the Covid-19 vaccine rollout is following a targeted and phased approach, the majority not included in those first phases are going to continue to use the home remedies that call for ginger, garlic and lemons. In the same breath, higher prices will keep consumption at bay. With a well-designed communication strategy for the vaccine rollout, people will not use home remedies in place of the vaccines.”
Social media users have highlighted the price increases with pictures of packets in stores costing as much as R480 per kilogram.
Users on Twitter alleged that a kilo of ginger was going for R300 at Food Lover’s Market in Johannesburg while loose ginger with a price of R199.99/kg was spotted at a Pick n Pay in Parow, Cape Town.
Pick n Pay reported the root was experiencing very high demand during the off season with stores having to import the product from overseas.
“Our corporate stores are currently selling ginger for R189.99 per/kg and we are working very hard to meet increased demand while keeping our prices as low as possible,” it said.
A recent Food Lover’s Market statement also warned customers that the price of ginger would continue to escalate, leading up to the start of the local season in February.
“With the advent of another second Covid-19 wave, we’ve seen the popularity of ginger increase as consumers seek to bolster their immune system by including ginger in juices, soups and extracts,” the company said.
“These factors have in turn increased the price of the imported ginger at the fresh produce markets, which then has a direct effect on retail prices.”
Agricultural economist Dr Kobus Laubscher said local ginger suppliers were not ready for the rocketing demand leading into the second half of 2020.
“We are a primary producer,” Laubscher said. “Ginger farmers are smiling all the way to the bank, but it’s not a product that’s easily produced. The real ginger producers are benefiting from this. Suppliers of chains are saying they are in short supply so if you want it, you’ll have to pay more.”
However, Laubscher was confident that consumers would see a price drop as lockdown restrictions are loosened and the new season arrives.
“We will see a decrease in prices, but we will see steady increases for now and the market will react. It’s not sustainable at a consumer level.”