The cost of a cooked traditional Ulster Fry has fallen for the second year in a row, according to a novel index tracking the cost of popular Northern Irish breakfast foods.

For the past 12 years, Ulster Bank chief economist Richard Ramsey has released his annual gauge of the cost of a traditional cooked breakfast in the lead up to the Balmoral Show, of which the bank is the principal sponsor.

The 2020 show was cancelled due to Covid-19. However, Ramsey has continued to publish the 'Ulster Fry Index' to coincide with the original dates of the four-day event (May 13-16) to highlight the role of the agri-food sector.

The latest figures from the index tell us that the cost of all but two items in the index – mushrooms and tea – have fallen in the 12 months to March 2020 and that the overall index is down 1.2% in the same time-frame.

Tomatoes (down 7.2%) and margarine (down 4.5%) are the biggest losers, with more modest decreases in the prices of butter, milk, sausages, back bacon and eggs.

All prices in the index are based on the latest figures from the ONS Retail Prices Index (RPI).

Ulster Fry Index

Despite the more recent price drops though, the long-term trend is upwards. The Ulster Fry Index has fallen the past two years, but it is up 5.9% in the last 10 years and 21% since the last recession in 2008.

Commenting, Richard Ramsey said: “The Ulster Bank Ulster Fry Index is intended to be a way to engage consumers in economics and to help communicate what’s happening with indicators like inflation.

"It is also a way of highlighting the important role of our agri-food sector, which brings us our bacon, eggs, butter and much more, and to create an understanding of how the economics of the agri-food sector work.

“We have now seen two consecutive years of falls in the index, perhaps helping ease the pressure on consumers’ pockets. However, I suspect that trend won’t continue for a third year.

As the food supply chain grapples with the impact of Covid-19, it faces increased costs to do so, including adapting working practices.

"There is an inevitability that these increased costs will find their way into the prices of the goods we buy,” he continued.

Ramsey said that whilst consumers will likely celebrate the current lower prices, the same will not be the case for farmers.

“As my colleague, Cormac McKervey, Ulster Bank’s agriculture expert, has been highlighting, the returns farmers have been achieving of late, particularly dairy and beef farmers, have reduced to below the cost of production," Ramsey said.

The Covid-19 situation has brought home to many the crucial importance of having a robust food supply chain, and the vital role of our local food producers, processors and suppliers in ensuring we have the items we need and want where and when we need them.

"As consumers, we perhaps need to understand that the current situation of farmers receiving below the cost of production isn’t sustainable long term, and taking all of the factors into consideration, it is likely that the Ulster Fry Index will only go one way in the year ahead.”