Local health food shops slam 23% hike
There has been strong local condemnation of a proposed VAT increase on vitamins, minerals, probiotics and fish oils, with local health food suppliers calling on the Government to carry out a review ahead of the proposed 23% charge due to come into effect on March 1st. A 0% VAT rate for food supplements has existed for the past 40 years.
Majella Hannon, who runs Bees Knees health food store in Ballygar, believes the new VAT rate could have a detrimental effect on business.
“What I’m worried about is my customers’ health and for the people who have been coming in here for the last five years and rely on these supplements; cancer patients, people with severe pain, depression, and parents who won’t be able to afford supplements for kids’ health due to this hike.
“I have people coming in stockpiling vitamins because they’re afraid in March they won’t be able to afford them anymore.
“From a business point of view, I’m self-employed, I have part-time staff at weekends and holidays who I rely on so that I can take time off to be with my family. I rely on the staff to be here but with this price hike I’m not going to have the customers here. It’s a rural shop in Ballygar and we have lovely clientele that we have built up over the five years. The customers are treated in confidence and with loyalty. I still want to be here to be able to serve them,” she said.
Majella was also critical of the way in which the increase has been introduced.
“We found out through our distributors just before Christmas. We were so busy that it didn’t really sink in but the rep came to me shortly after and explained what we were facing. I then had a meeting in Dublin with all the main distributors of health food and this was seen as a major problem”.
At that stage distributors were doing their best to stop the hike or to cap it at 13%. However, Majella said she has no faith that the Government will step in, and so far her appeals to local politicians appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Alison Oates, a pharmacist with Johnston’s, which is next-door to Bees Knees, believes the new rate could have a negative impact on patient care.
“This will have an impact especially at this time of year when patients are taking antibiotics. I would recommend that they come to Majella and she’d recommend a probiotic, which can be really good for patients who experience side-effects from antibiotics.
“At the moment I’ve no problem recommending that they come in here because the supplements are reasonably priced but if they go up I don’t know what I’d do in that case,” she said.
Alison added that any increase could put people’s health at risk.
“Every patient is different and if they find a supplement that works for them they will want to continue with it but with a price increase they may not take it anymore and that in turn will affect their health”.
Maureen Brosnan, who is director/manager of the Tattie Hoaker health food store in Roscommon, said the announcement was a hammer blow to small businesses.
“It will close all of these stores. We are an independent health food store and have been here for 16 years but we are very worried. We just couldn’t carry it (the 23% increase) as a small business.
“I sell a lot of things that people of all ages rely on during all seasons. A lot of older people rely on supplements and our customers are also given really good advice on nutrition. Doctors even send their patients here”, she said.
Maureen described the 23% rise as “crazy” and said the powers that be had handled the situation badly.
“They tried to sneak this increase in without us noticing on the 27th of December. You would think that common sense has to prevail but Mr. Varadkar did not help matters when he referred to health food products as ‘snake oil’”.
Health food hike: What the customers say…
Mary Delaney, Ballygar
“For me it’ll mean anything up to a tenner a month on the two or three items I buy for cholesterol. I’m just trying to do the right thing, keeping it natural and keeping myself out of hospital, please God.
“This new VAT rate will mean that these products are going to cost me another ten euro and that’s a lot of money.
“If this shop closes down I’ll have to travel to another shop fifteen miles away to get these products which means I could very well not bother and then find myself falling into ill health”.
Máire Kelly, Ballyforan
“For me, it’s certainly not a luxury. I have to get these supplements because I was diagnosed with cervical cancer eleven years ago and I’ve had an awful lot of side-effects and ill health since then. I’m just trying to do the best I can for my own health so that I can keep going.
“I have to take magnesium for my bones; my hands and feet cramp up. I can’t do without the supplements so it’s not a case that I am going to be able to not buy them. I’m going to have to find the money. Today, I’m spending about €60 for these supplements so add another 23% to that!
“There are people taking supplements and vitamins not because they need to for any specific reason but to stay healthy and to stay out of the healthcare system. There’s already such a burden on the health system in this country and now they’re trying to punish us for that. It makes no sense at all”.
Retail Excellence in appeal to Government
Retail representative body Retail Excellence called on the Government to review the VAT increase, saying that it could cause of hundreds of job losses.
Group CEO David Fitzsimons said: “Minister Paschal Donohue stated recently that he is willing to engage with stakeholders on this matter and Retail Excellence looks forward to such engagement to come to a fair solution for consumers and retailers alike”.