food korea price spike winter cold spring
Park Ji-hyun, a working mother living in Bangbae-dong, southern Seoul, said she is surprised when she goes grocery shopping every weekend.

"It is difficult to find anything whose price has not risen. We have been refraining from eating out as restaurants have raised prices, but cooking at home has also become expensive," she said.

According to Statistics Korea, Wednesday, consumer prices rose 1.6 percent in April from a year ago, hovering stably below 2 percent for seven consecutive months.

However, inflation perceived by consumers is much higher. They especially feel the pressure at grocery stores and restaurants. The fresh food prices index marked a 4.7 percent rise in April compared with a year ago, jumping from a 1 percent rise the previous month.

Prices of agricultural products soared 8.9 percent, marking the steepest rise since last August when they recorded a 16.2 percent rise, and pulling up overall consumer costs by 0.39 percentage points. Prices of fresh vegetables rose 8.5 percent, also the biggest jump since a 22.8 percent rise last August.

Most notable is the price of potatoes, which soared 76.9 percent from a year ago; and up 33 percent from March, the steepest rise in more than 14 years.

The government explained a cold wave last winter and a cold snap in early spring diminished market supply.

"The stock of potatoes has been decreasing since last December, and the weather was not favorable during seeding. This pulled up prices," said Kim Yun-sung, the director in charge of the price division at Statistics Korea.

The price of rice also rose 30.2 percent, and other Korean staples such as chili powder, radish and squash all rose over 40 percent.

Prices at restaurants surged 2.7 percent in the first quarter, marking the steepest rise in two years. This is said to have been a result of the minimum wage hike. The country's hourly minimum wage was raised by 16.4 percent to 7,530 won this year, despite employers' concerns.

"Along with rising food prices, labor costs, and rent and tax increases affected prices at restaurants," Kim said.

Prices rose notably in services where labor costs make up a huge portion. Fees for housekeeping services, for instance, surged 10.8 percent, while apartment maintenance fees jumped 6.8 percent.

Food manufacturers are also adding to inflation. Haitai Confectionery and Foods raised the price of its most popular products by an average 12.7 percent, while Lotte Confectionery also jacked up its prices. Other food manufacturers and bakeries are expected to follow since global wheat prices have risen steeply due to a drought that hit the United States and Australia last year. The two countries provide 93 percent of the wheat Korea imports.