Sardines more popular than chicken


Canned sardines and pilchards (also known as pilchards), rather than chicken, are increasingly South Africa’s preferred protein. The reason is rising living costs and the effect of load shedding on people’s ability to store perishable food.

This is one of the findings in the monitoring report of prices of essential food which was launched recently.

Canned sardines’ renewed popularity is reflected in sales figures from Oceana (owner of Lucky Star) and Premier Fishing. The report shows sales volumes increased by 9% in domestic and export markets, from 8.8 million cartons in the 2022 fiscal year to 9.6 million in the 2023 fiscal year. Premier’s sales of furriers grew by 59%, from 1,174 tonnes in 2021 to 1,866 tonnes in 2022. Canned furriers are not the cheapest source of protein. This fish cost R1.12 per gram in December and is still more expensive than dry beans, at 32 cents per gram of protein. Eggs follow after beans, at 48 cents per gram of protein and separate frozen portions of chicken at 91 cents per gram of protein.

The increase in the popularity of canned sardines seems to be based on a combination of reasons, and not just the price or ranking of specific protein, the report says. Canned sardines are bought in smaller quantities (normally 400 grams and less) which gives consumers reasonable flexibility in their purchasing patterns. This canned fish can also be easily stored on top of each other and does not need to be kept cool. It is available in different flavors without extra expenditure on seasonings. There is no VAT charged on canned furs, which helps to keep the product affordable.

Beef, at R2.81 per gram of protein, is the most expensive source of protein. Inflation had several influences on the price of protein sources in 2023. According to the report, this is not surprising, considering the costs involved in producing the products and to some extent the demand for them.

Apart from eggs, the prices of which were affected by the outbreak of bird flu, inflation on protein sources was modest and this versatile protein remains the second best option in terms of cost.

Like the producer price, the average retail price for canned fish is not particularly volatile. This is consistent with previous research that found that asymmetric price transmission, where prices rise quickly and fall slowly, is lowest for non-perishable foods.

In 2021, the average retail price of canned fish increased by 2.8%, followed by 9.9% in 2022 and 2.3% in 2023. Average producer prices increased by 1.1% in 2021, 22.9% in 2022 and 2.6% in 2023.