Grocery prices are more affordable today than they were a year or even two years ago, according to Ocado boss Tim Steiner.

Mr Steiner, who co-founded the online supermarket giant in 2000 and is now CEO, admitted that the current environment was ‘challenging’ but said the issue was customers having to pay more for their energy and fuel, not the price of food.

His comments came after research by consumer group Which? Found that prices of some basic food items had risen by as much as 20% over the past two years in all supermarkets.

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Which? analyzed the prices of more than 21,000 groceries and compared costs for December last year to the end of February this year with the same period two years previously. Prices of 265 lines had gone up by more than a fifth.

Which? Said the items that had recorded the biggest price rises included a 500g box of Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut corn flakes cereal, which had gone up by 21.4% at Tesco, Asda’s own-label closed cup mushrooms (250g) which were up by the same amount and Cathedral City extra mature cheddar (350g) which rose by 21.1% at Ocado.

Across the 20 categories of groceries compared, fizzy drinks had the biggest average price rises, at 5.9%, followed by butters and spreads at 4.9%.

And last month, the Office for National Statistics reported food and drink prices were up by an average of 6% year on year, but some everyday products, including milk and pasta, had increased by more than 10%

Sue Davies, the Which? head of food policy and consumer rights, said “eye-watering” price rises were being exacerbated by other factors to put “huge pressure” on household shopping budgets.

But speaking at Shoptalk Europe, at an ecommerce event, Mr Steiner said: “It’s a very challenging environment. However, grocery prices are up less than wage inflation at the moment meaning, on average, people’s groceries are more affordable than they were a year or two years ago.”

Mr Steiner’s comments come as Ocado was named the second most expensive supermarket in Which?’s monthly trolley comparison for May, beating Waitrose to the bottom, most expensive, spot.

Ocado shareholders last month rebelled against high pay for directors at the online grocery specialist, with almost 30% voting against a plan to pay Mr Steiner up to £100m over the next five years.

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