As in many countries, consumers in Australia have recently had to accommodate increases in the costs of basic food (Webb & Leeder 2007, p. 7). During the financial year 2007–2008, overall food prices rose 3.9%, while some basic food prices rose more sharply: cheese by 14.2%, milk by 12.1%, poultry by 11.0% and bread by 6.8% (ABS 2008). Food cost plays a significant role in mediating food choice among low socio-economic status (SES) groups, who often have to reduce food spending to allow for other essentials such as housing and utilities, (Douglas 2006) leading to decreased food security. The literature on food access indicates that people from low income backgrounds experience higher rates of food insecurity and obesity, and studies have found that affordability is a primary reason given for not choosing healthy foods (Banerjee 2007; Innes-Hughes et al 2011, p. 215 ). Thus, the assessment of food cost and affordability are essential steps in better understanding individual and community food choices.
Food costs entered the political limelight prior to the Australian 2007 federal election, with voters demanding government action to reduce prices. To honour pre-election promises, the newly elected Labor government initiated a national inquiry into grocery pricing soon after taking office. However, following the release of the grocery pricing inquiry report (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 2008) and the consequent launch of the government website to monitor prices15, critics considered there would be minimal if any impact on prices (Sydney Morning Herald 2008). This is partly because of international trends, with Australia not immune to global factors attributed to raising the costs of basic foods (Queensland Health 2001), and partly because the inquiry outcomes did nothing to address food costs.
To be food secure means to have regular access to safe, nutritionally adequate, culturally acceptable food from nonemergency