It takes something for Primark to play second fiddle in the news after parent company ABF’s results, particularly considering the value fashion giant seems to be doing a remarkable job of weathering the fashion downturn.

But the big story in the ABF numbers had nothing to do with skirts and strappy tops, but the more mundane world of wheat and cooking oils. The price of these basic staples has gone through the roof and that spells bad news for shoppers and new challenges for food retailers.

The big supermarkets have bent over backwards to pass as little of the increases on to customers as possible and suppliers have done their bit too. But the figures from price comparison expert Mysupermarket.co.uk nevertheless show the price of a typical basket has risen 15 per cent in a year.

This is inevitable because, as ABF confirmed, this is about a global issue that no UK retailer or supplier can do anything about. What’s more, many of the causes, such as soaring demand from the developing world, aren’t cyclical, but structural changes that aren’t going to go away.

Shoppers have got used to steady price deflation, but they are in for a shock. And with labour costs soaring in China, non-food prices will have to rise too.

There are no easy answers for retailers, although an utterly ruthless focus on costs will be a given. But they are going to be hit both ways because, on the one hand, they will be squeezed by trying to absorb price rises, on the other, their customers will still be feeling the pinch.

Spilt milk and Morrisons

This week’s apology to Morrisons by the OFT was the right thing to do, but the original error was symptomatic of the high-handed approach that the competition authorities in their dealings with retailers.

For big retailers and the grocers particularly, reputation is everything. So for a body that exists to ensure fair play to casually accuse one of the big players of price fixing is negligent in the extreme.

The case only seems to reinforce the view that for many of those who determine policy on retail, the big bad retailers are guilty until proven innocent.

tim.danaher@retail-week.com