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This Website Exposes the Truth About Soaring Food Prices

Wired: “A developer in Austria created a comparison website that helped open up the opaque world of food costs as regulators investigate the food industry. It didn’t take long for Mario Zechner to prove the government wrong. In May, the independent software developer was listening to a radio interview with Austria’s labor minister, Martin Kocher, who said the government would build a new database that will help people find the cheapest milk, eggs, and other supermarket products to help fight soaring food prices. However, the planned system would take months to build and cover only a handful of food types. Zechner decided to take action. Two hours after hearing the interview, Zechner had built the first prototype of a comparison system, pulling the cost of 22,000 items from the websites of Austria’s biggest two supermarket chains. “I decided to just sit down in the afternoon and see how hard it really can be,” Zechner says. The result was Heisse Preise (which translates as “Hot Prices”), with Zechner open-sourcing the project on GitHub. “From then on, it kind of escalated,” he says. Months later, Heisse Preise has grown enormously, demonstrating the power of citizen-developed tools and what can be achieved when data is opened up to everyone. The comparison site now lists prices from 10 Austrian supermarket chains, plus four in neighboring Germany and Slovenia. Heisse Preise includes more than 177,000 items. Thanks to data provided by an anonymous contributor and local press, item pricing history goes back to 2017. Zechner’s creation of the tool came as Europe’s food retailers and governments have clashed over rising prices and the cost of living. Perhaps most significantly, Zechner’s tool has shone a light on the opaque world of price changes by supermarkets, allowing price increases and decreases to be tracked. The transparency, Zechner and others say, shows there can be little difference in prices at some major supermarkets, and within days of an item changing price, competitors can mirror the change.”

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