News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Monday 10th March 2014

True cost of brand loyalty in Ireland revealed as prices soar at tills


Irish families are being forced to dig deeper to pay for their weekly groceries as the prices of branded goods soared far faster than the rate of inflation in the past year.

The cost of some items has shot up by as much as 15% when shrinking packet sizes as well as price hikes are taken into account.

A survey by the Consumers Association of Ireland has found that the cost of a basket of 19 top-selling items, including milk, sliced bread and sugar, rose by over 2% in the last year.

The price hikes for branded groceries came despite general inflation stagnating at just 0.2pc in the year to January.

Customers are increasingly switching to own-brand goods as they are faced with price hikes for their old favourite brands.

The biggest increase in the survey was for Birds Eye frozen garden peas, with the price rising from €2.08 for 450g in 2013 to €2.14 for a smaller 400g pack this year.

This means shoppers would be paying €2.40 for the same quantity of peas as last year, which “means that the real price increase is in fact approximately 15pc”, the CAI said in its ‘Consumer Choice’ magazine.

Some 13 out of 19 items surveyed rose in price between the last survey in January 2013 and the latest one in February 2014.

A litre of Avonmore milk rose from €1.14 to €1.24, while Donegal Catch cod rose from €5.40 to €5.54 and a kilo of Siucra rose from €1.45 to €1.55 and a large bar of Cadbury’s chocolate rose from €1.72 to €1.87.

The price of Brennans bread and Kerrygold butter stayed the same, however, while the price of Heinz Ketchup, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and Erin soup fell.

And the price of Squeez premium orange juice soared by 13pc, from €1.60 in 2013 to €1.81 in 2014.

The average price of the basket of goods came to €41.95 – which was up 89 cents on last year’s basket, a rise of 2.2pc.

Despite the survey, Central Statistics Office figures show that general food and beverage prices actually fell by 1.1pc during 2013.

However, the CAI survey shows that when it comes to many well-known brands, consumers are paying more at the till.


The CAI said that the cost of brand loyalty may now be too high for many cash-strapped consumers – and explains why they are gravitating towards own-brand products and Aldi and Lidl to get lower prices.

CAI policy advisor Dermott Jewell said that the price rises for these everyday items over the past year and in repeated surveys since 2011 highlighted why consumers were changing to own-brand goods.

“With regard to these specific branded goods purchased by the majority of the population, the prices remain determinedly high on average,” he said.

“Therefore we remain of the opinion that savings in this area for the average consumer have necessitated a significant change in purchasing habits, patterns and preferences,” he said.

Many families had gone through the worst financial setback of their lives, yet this had not resulted in significant brand price reductions, he said.

Meanwhile, Kantar Worldpanel figures indicated that own-brand products account for 36pc of all groceries purchased as consumers cut their spending by switching away from branded goods.

Prices were measured in Dunnes Stores, Tesco and SuperValu, with special offers excluded because these are only temporary.

Excluding Siucra, which wasn’t available in the same size everywhere, the basket of goods was cheapest in Dunnes at €39.96, while Tesco charged €40.43 and SuperValu was dearest at €40.92.

Several of the items were on special offer via discounts or as part of multi-buy offers, meaning a consumer could knock between €1 and €4 off the basket price depending on where they shopped.

Routine eye exams/tests essential to detect glaucoma


Eye doctors are reminding people that the only way the serious eye disease, glaucoma, can be detected is through routine eye examinations.

An estimated 3% of Irish people over the age of 50 have glaucoma. If caught early enough, the condition can be treated, however it is usually symptomless in its early stages. At a late stage, it becomes irreversible, resulting in vision loss and blindness.

“The importance of having a regular routine eye exam to help prevent avoidable glaucoma-related vision loss cannot be over-emphasised. With early diagnosis and careful regular observation and treatment, damage can usually be kept to a minimum, and good vision can be enjoyed indefinitely,” said Dr Aoife Doyle, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon and glaucoma specialist at the Royal Victoria Eye and Ear Hospital in Dublin.

She noted that with glaucoma, vision loss is gradual, so those affected are often unaware they have a problem ‘until their sight has been compromised’.

“It’s crucial that people remember that once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored,’ she commented.

The best way to detect glaucoma is through routine eye examinations. The test to detect it is non-invasive and provides a result immediately.

Dr Doyle made her comments to coincide with World Glaucoma Week, which runs until March 15. She noted that those most at risk from the condition are people over the age of 60, those with a family history of the disease and individuals of Hispanic and African descent.

“There are different types of glaucoma and some people are at greater risk and may need to see their eye doctor on a more frequent basis. People of African origin are more at risk of developing glaucoma and of developing it at a younger age. For this reason, regular comprehensive eye exams to catch symptoms early are essential,” she said.

The Irish College of Ophthalmologists recommends that all adults have a ‘baseline, comprehensive dilated eye exam’ by the age of 40, as this is the time when early signs may begin.

For those aged 60 and older, the college recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years.

Anyone with concerns about their eye health should see an eye doctor. For an appointment, you need to get a referral from your GP, although some eye doctors working in the community will give an appointment directly. For more information, see the Irish College of Ophthalmologist’s website here

HSE publishes childhood obesity surveillance data


The Health Service Executive has published the latest Irish results from COSI, the European Childhood Obesity Surveillance Initiative.  COSI monitors childhood obesity levels by measuring children in sample schools all over Europe.

This 2012 data is the third set of results to be published to date, and involved a nationally representative sample of 7, 9 and 11 year old children from a mix of Irish urban, rural and disadvantaged (DEIS) schools.

Dr. Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director of Health and Wellbeing, HSE, said that:  ‘The 2012 COSI results show that more than 20% of our children remain overweight or obese, but that rates have either decreased or stabilised in some age groups. This is welcome news, but the overall concern about the level of overweight among our children remains.’

  The study was carried out for the HSE by the National Nutrition Surveillance Centre, UCD. The large study comprises 12,236 children’s measurements in 163 schools collected on three occasions in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012.

Professor Cecily Kelleher from UCD said: ‘The rates of overweight and obesity have shown decreases at age 7, and stabilisation at age 9, while the overall incidence remains of concern.  Those with responsibility for caring for children and educating the public on health and wellbeing therefore have much to do to continue to tackle this issue.’

‘Critically, the observed reduction or leveling off is not happening in DEIS or disadvantaged schools, and this has implications for all, including health and public service partners, particularly those working on implementation of the Healthy Ireland framework. We must ensure that our efforts are focused on bringing the improvements demonstrated by this data to bear on all our children, particularly children who are disadvantaged by poverty, and education, housing and transport deficits, among others.’

Dr O’Keeffe continued ‘Healthy Ireland, the Government Framework for Improved Health and Wellbeing seeks to proactively improve the health and wellbeing of the population and we know that tackling childhood obesity requires the whole of government and whole of society response that this framework can deliver.’

‘Evidence also tells us that overweight and obesity in childhood tracks into adulthood, and that the earlier we intervene to prevent our children from becoming an unhealthy weight, the better their childhood and adult health, and quality and length of life, will be.  By identifying at an early stage children whose weight is out of line with their growth for their age, we can offer them and their parents the supports they need to get the balance right as they grow up.’

Dr. Cate Hartigan, Head of Health Promotion and Improvement, HSE, outlined a new growth monitoring project being introduced in September of this year: ‘Later in 2014, the health services will introduce a pilot growth monitoring programme in primary schools, as part of the school health check for 5-6 year olds.  This will commence in 4 pilot HSE areas – Mayo, Laois-Offaly, Dublin 15 and Cork City.’

‘Parents will be given feedback on their child’s growth, and if required, advice on steps they can take at home to ensure they rebalance diet and activity levels as their child grows.  Any children whose growth results show signs of clinical obesity will be offered a community based lifestyle intervention programme, based on the successful W82GO programme delivered by the Children’s University Hospital, Temple Street.’

Irish mothers may be allowed share maternity leave with their partners


New Irish mums may soon be able to share part of their maternity leave entitlement with their partners under legislation being considered by the Government.

The Department of Justice is working on a scheme to allow fathers to receive two weeks of the statutory 26 weeks’ leave, according to minister of state Kathleen Lynch.

“We intend to have serious proposals prepared before the end of the year,” she said.

“In terms of the bill itself, we would be ensuring the power to decide on the parental leave is always vested in the mother.”

However, she said that there were “a lot of complicating factors need to be worked out”.

“For example, with the idea of allowing both parents to step in and out of leave, the Department of Social Protection says that would be very difficult to manage, in terms of payments,” Ms Lynch explained.

Experts have already recommended to Childrens’ Minister Frances Fitzgerald that the government should allow partners to share leave. But this could only come into play when paid leave is extended to a full year.


In Britain a woman is entitled to 52 weeks’ maternity leave, while a father gets up to two weeks when the child is born.

The couple can then transfer up to 26 weeks of the leave to the father if the mum decides to return to work.

Ms Lynch said that the Government is looking at introducing parental leave as part of the current 26-week entitlement – and not in addition to it.

“Before we move to extend maternity leave, we have to deal with the paternity leave issue,” she said.

She added that the bill would need a lot of amendments before it came close to being published.

She said that several interest groups have already identified barriers to paternity leave – such as employers’ representative groups and women’s groups.

They point out the high cost implications and also the knock-on effect it would have on a mothers’ entitlements.

Elephants know how dangerous people are from how we speak


Elephants pay attention when we speak, a new study in Kenya shows.

When an elephant killed a Maasai woman collecting firewood near Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2007, a group of young Maasai men retaliated by spearing one of the animals.

  A female elephant displays an alert reaction—with ears held open and trunk extended—at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

“It wasn’t the one that had killed the woman, says Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins. “It was just the first elephant they encountered—a young bull on the edge of a swamp.”

The Maasai spiked him with spears and, their anger spent, returned home. Later, the animal died from his wounds.

Elephants experience those kinds of killings sporadically. Yet the attacks happen often enough that the tuskers have learned that the Maasai—and Maasai men in particular—are dangerous.

The elephants in the Amboseli region are so aware of this that they can even distinguish between Ma, the language of the Maasai, and other languages, says a team of researchers, who report their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Powers of Discrimination

The results add to “our growing knowledge of the discriminatory abilities of the elephant mind, and how elephants make decisions and see their world,” says Joyce Poole, an elephant expert with ElephantVoices in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Indeed, previous studies have shown that the Amboseli elephants can tell the cattle-herding, red-robed Maasai apart from their agricultural and more blandly dressed neighbors, the Kamba people, simply by scent and the color of their dress.

The elephants know too that walking through villages on weekends is dangerous, as is crop raiding during the full moon.

They’re equally aware of their other key predator, lions, and from their roars, know how many lions are in a pride and if a male lion (the bigger threat because he can bring down an elephant calf) is present.

And they know exactly how to respond to lions roaring nearby: run them off with a charge.

A group of elephants defensively bunch together, with the matriarch of the family at the front.

Flight or Fight

Intriguingly, when the Amboseli elephants encounter a red cloth, such as those worn by the Maasai, they also react aggressively. But they employ a different tactic when they catch the scent of a Maasai man: They run away. Smelling the scent of a Kamba man, however, troubles them far less.

“They have very clear behavioral responses in all of these situations,” says Karen McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom. “We wondered if they would react differently to different human voices.”

To find out, she and her colleagues played recordings to elephant families of Maasai and Kamba men, as well as Maasai women and boys, speaking a simple phrase in their language: “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming.”

Over a two-year period, they carried out 142 such playbacks with 47 elephant families, each time playing a different human voice through a concealed speaker placed 50 meters (164 feet) from the animals. They video-recorded the elephants’ reactions to the various human voices, including a Maasai man’s voice they altered to sound like a woman’s

As soon as an elephant family heard an adult Maasai man speak, the matriarch didn’t hesitate, the researchers say. “She instantly retreats,” Shannon says. “But it’s a silent retreat. They sometimes make a low rumble, and may smell for him, too, but they’re already leaving, and bunching up into a defensive formation. It’s a very different response to when they hear lions.”

In contrast, the voices of Kamba men didn’t cause nearly as strong a defensive reaction: The elephants didn’t consider the Kamba a serious threat.

“That subtle discrimination is easy for us to do, but then we speak human language,” says Richard Byrne, a cognitive biologist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. “It’s interesting that elephants can also detect the characteristic differences between the languages.”

Fear Men, Not Boys (or Women)

The Amboseli elephants were also sufficiently tuned in to the Maasai language that they could tell women’s and boys’ voices from men’s, seldom turning tail in response. “Maasai women and boys don’t kill elephants,” Shannon points out. Nor were the elephants tricked by the man’s altered voice; when they heard it, they left at once.

“The elephants’ decision-making is very precise,” McComb says, “and it illustrates how they’ve adapted where they can to coexist with us. They’d rather run away than tangle with a human predator.”

Why, one wonders, don’t elephants retreat when poachers descend on them?

“Unfortunately, there are going to be things they cannot adapt to, things such as humans’ ability to come after them with automatic weapons or mass poisonings,” McComb says. “And in those situations, we have to protect them—or we will lose them, ultimately.”


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