A popular phrase goes like this: ‘There are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.’
This joking reference means that statistical numbers, despite being reliable and fixed, can be manipulated to show almost anything.
This is why the South African Poultry Association’s lobby organisation, Fairplay – in a bid to detract attention away from soaring poultry prices – has challenged our statistics that chicken prices have increased on average 10% per year for the last ten years.
What Fairplay is trying to do, mischievously, is trying to cast aspersions on our statistics in order to prove that we are unreliable reporters and therefore anything else we say is also suspect. In order to do this, they are cherry-picking specific statistics to disprove what we are saying. They are saying that in some years the prices did not rise by 10%. That is true. But in other years it rose more than 10% (as we show in our graphics). Prices go up and down, different chicken products come and go, seasonal variations occur. But, on average, our statements are correct.
Fairplay also attempts to accuse us of ascribing this rise in price to the reduction in imports. If you look at the graphs that show the price increases, you will see that nowhere is this given as a reason.
Despite Fairplay stating that our statistics are incorrect, it is noticeable that they have not posted their own statistics in order to contradict the numbers.
So some explanation is required as to how ChickenFacts arrived at this conclusion, and why we stick to our assertion that the rise in the price of poultry is a concerning trend – and that chicken prices have doubled over the last ten years (and why Astral, the country’s largest poultry producer, posted a R1,4 billion profit in 2021).
First, the evidence.
Secondly, some context.
Ascertaining prices of a commodity such as poultry is not easy. Chicken meat is bought and sold many times along its journey from farm plot to plate, so one has to decide if one looks at the producer price, the wholesale price, or the retail price. ChickenFacts is an entity that strives to serve the interests of the consumer so it was decided to research the retail price – ie. the price that the consumer pays at the till.
It is a pity that Fairplay is picking on numbers instead of a trend. It is incontestable that poultry is rapidly becoming unaffordable. At the time of writing, Checkers is selling fresh whole chicken at R57 per kg. Pick and Pay is selling theirs for R52 per kg. Compare this with the R28.50 that a fresh whole chicken cost in November 2011 (according to NAMC), and tell us that our statistics are misleading.
The second problem was to decide which type of chicken to compare with which. Chicken is sold in a bewildering range of products – fresh, frozen, mixed portions, selected portions and individually-frozen portions. There are also the variables of quantities: chicken is sold as a whole bird, in punnets, or in 2kg, 4kg and 10kg packets. For this reason, comparing like with like over ten years was tricky.
Another issue was the prices at the supermarket vary widely according to the season and supply, as well as specials offered by supermarkets to attract customers, so they vary from month to month.
The National Agricultural Marketing Council (NAMC) publishes a quarterly Price Monitor Bulletin. In November 2011, when we started our comparison, the Bulletin published actual prices. However, over ten years they ceased to publish actual prices and only published the increase in prices, stated in percentages. As a result, we could only aggregate their increase from the percentages and compare them with other statistics.
Third, our methodology.
Every step of the way, we cross-compared our statistics from the NAMC with prices advertised in supermarkets, as well as prices quoted in the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Household Affordability Index. At times we had to do extrapolations as direct comparisons were simply unavailable. Sometimes the prices did not match and we calculated the difference and chose the average. We therefore stand by our reckoning.
In conclusion, we can state that our actual figures might be inconsistent as it has been impossible to directly compare apples with apples due to a lack of direct statistics. Some of these statistics needed to be extrapolated because of a lack of direct comparison. However, we hold to the trend: what you are paying for chicken now is approximately double what you paid for chicken a decade ago.
And that is, really, the only statistic that is important.