The Margin: You think groceries are expensive in America? Try shopping in Switzerland or South Korea

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American consumers have felt plenty of pain at the supermarket of late, due to the effects of inflation. Overall costs in the U.S. are rising at a 7.5% annual rate. Some food items are going up by as much 20%, according to reports.  

But shoppers in the U.S. still may not have it as bad as those in Switzerland and South Korea.

In a recent analysis of prices in 36 major nations, the British website Money.co.uk found that those two countries had the highest costs for groceries, based on a fairly standard shopping list that included milk, eggs, cheese, apples, bananas, oranges, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, bread, rice, potatoes, chicken and beef.

In Switzerland, such a supermarket run would cost $48.16. In South Korea, the tally would be $35.78.

And in the U.S.? A considerably lower figure of $27.91. Indeed, in the Money.co.uk survey, the U.S. ranks in seventh place among the most expensive countries to purchase groceries. We’re not only cheaper than Switzerland and South Korea, but also Norway ($34.93), Iceland ($34.22), France ($28.78) and Israel ($28.45).

Still, plenty of other countries have much lower prices. Turkey ranks as the most affordable, with the same basket of goods running $8.95. Other cheaper countries include Colombia ($9.71), Poland ($12.35), Lithuania ($13.48), Hungary ($13.92), Latvia ($14.43) and Mexico ($14.47).

James Andrews, senior personal finance expert at Money.co.uk, said the analysis was done using research from Numbeo, which bills itself as the “world’s largest cost of living database.”

Andrews added that the results didn’t really surprise him. “We expected countries known for their generally higher costs of living to rank at the top — for example Switzerland, Norway and Iceland,” he told MarketWatch via email.

Of course, the cost of groceries should be weighed against the earning power of individuals living in a particular country. In that regard, the Money.co.uk study notes that Mexico, despite ranking among the cheapest nations judging strictly by the tally at the register, is actually the least affordable.

The study pointed to Mexico’s average monthly income of $1,352 — and its monthly grocery bill (as opposed to the cost for a single shopping trip) of $62.87. That means groceries account for 4.65% of earnings.

By contrast, in the U.S., groceries account for 2.1% of earnings, according to Money.co.uk. But the real winner in that regard is the Netherlands, where groceries account for 1.97% — the lowest percentage among all the surveyed nations.

A different story emerges in South Korea. Not only does the Asian country rank second in terms of pricing, it also ranks second in terms of the cost of groceries as a percentage of earnings — at 4.44%.

And consumers do say they feel the pinch in South Korea. In a piece on the Medium website, Nicholas H. Simpson, a resident of the country, pointed to prices that sometimes boggle the mind for items like fruit (61 cents per banana!), bread and chicken.

“I’m really starting to see where my salary goes each month,” he wrote.

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