It's no secret that the beer, popcorn, and hot dogs you buy at a baseball game cost more at the stadium than they do at the corner store. But Brazilians are complaining that the lead-up to this summer's World Cup is turning entire cities into spectacle venues, complete with soaring prices.
In cities like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, prices for coconut water, beach chair rentals, and restaurants are escalating, and consumer confidence has dropped to an all-time low. Reports from Rio show that coconuts (an indicative product in Brazil) could be had on the beach for 4 reais in December (about $1.60), while in January the price jumped to 6 reais. Caipirinhas have shot up from 10 reais to 20 reais.
The cost of lifestyle products (beach-related services, restaurant food and booze, for example) seem to be rising well above the inflation rate (5.9 percent last year). According to one Brazilian newspaper, prices for some food items such as shrimp omelets and pastries are higher than comparable items in New York or Paris.
Whether the coming World Cup is really the main culprit behind these price escalations is unclear, but there's no doubt that Brazilians are pointing fingers. An informal social media movement has sprung up in Brazil's largest cities. Users post pictures of outlandish prices they encounter, along with store information. The hope is that public shaming will encourage retailers to lower their prices back down. (On some sites, people call attention to merchants who've kept prices low).
"Não pago preço absurdo" (don’t pay absurd prices) launched in Rio de Janeiro in July. Citizen watchdogs are contributing to similar efforts in cities across Brazil. One Rio site has over a 140,000 followers. "Boicota SP," a Facebook page started last April, has more than 65,000 likes.
"Me and a group of friends were tired of going to bars and restaurants just to spend a lot of money. Then we saw a bakery selling 2 liters of Coke for 18 reais (about $9) and we decided that was time to do something about it," says Danilo Corci, Boicota SP’s founder.
Though these sites are often disconnected, users seem to have coalesced around a couple of price points. Boycotts are suggested on specific items, like restaurants charging more than 45 reais for a kilo of meat (about $19) or more than 5 reais ($2) for a pint of beer. "I personally follow the tips - not only to avoid, but to search and to give preference to other places with fair prices," says Luciana Medeiros, the founder of a Rio site.
Brazilians are fighting the new price realities in other ways. Once, locals looked down on schlepping equipment and drinks to the beach. Now, coolers and picnics have become chic. Bar-side BYOB street parties have drawn crowds in Rio this week. Dubbed isoporzinhos ("little cooler"), they seem to be spreading to other cities.
With a multiplicity of sites and suggestions, it remains to be seen whether these proposed boycotts will have much impact. But organizers hope these message boards pressure merchants to cater more to locals. They also put a focus on consumer power: by sharing information and outrage, concerned citizens are better positioned to recognize rip-offs and avoid them.
Corci calls it digital democracy in action. "A lot of people started being more judicious about spending their money in the city," he said in a TEDx talk (in Portuguese) in August. "The debate about consumption grew everywhere."
Top image: The Caesar Park hotel (top C), where the Netherlands soccer squad are staying for the FIFA 2014 World Cup, is pictured in front of Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro. (Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)