Increased competition among supermarkets has meant that food and grocery prices in Belgium have risen slower than in neighbouring countries. Belgian shops are still more expensive than German and Dutch ones, but have now gone under the French average.
In the period between 2018 and 2022, average prices for almost all product categories in Belgium rose less fast, or fell faster, than in the three neighbouring countries, the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA). Price differences have therefore narrowed, a Euromonitor analysis of data for 390 product types in eight categories shows.
Prices in Belgian supermarkets tend to be higher than in Germany and the Netherlands, but lower than in France. Outliers are dairy products and alternatives, where Belgium is the most expensive country, and soft drinks – where Dutch supermarkets are the most expensive.
The conclusions are remarkable, because in Belgium the perception prevails that French supermarkets in particular are cheaper. In the first quarter of 2023, Belgian shoppers spent 423 million euros in French supermarkets, almost 70 % more than a year earlier. However, the 2023 figures are outside the BCA’s study.
The competition authority attributes the price trends to increased competition in Belgium: they are primarily the result of lower gross margins at retailers, and not – or to a lesser extent – of lower average selling prices at manufacturers.
“New players have entered the Belgian market, and there have been shifts in the market position of existing players”, the BCA’s chief economist Griet Jans told news agency Belga. “A different dynamic has emerged on the Belgian market.”
The study also points to “persistent differences” in manufacturers’ selling prices for specific categories, such as alcohol and soft drinks. Therefore, territorial supply restrictions – whereby multinationals sometimes charge higher prices in relatively small countries such as Belgium – remain an important issue to keep on the (Belgian and European) policy agenda, the BCA says in its press release.