The price of food is only going up and tomatoes are mostly to blame.  

But experts are concerned about the wider consequences of these increases, especially  for families that can’t afford nutritional food.  

Statistics New Zealand found that from 2020 to 2021 annual food prices have increased by 4.5 percent. 

And this increase is the highest it has been in a decade.

Aaron Beck, Statistics New Zealand’s prices and construction senior manager, says tomatoes have gone up the most. 

On average - 1kg of tomatoes cost you $3.33 in December 2020 and $6.61 in December 2021. This is an increase of 99 percent.” 

Increase in food prices alarming, expert says

Dr Rebekah Graham, who has researched food insecurity, says “people on a lower income have less money to spend on food as it isn’t a fixed payment like rent”.

The increase in food prices, especially for families on low incomes, is alarming, Graham says. 

“[These families] budget enough to live on and don’t choose risky items that may go off or mouldy like fruit and vegetables.

“Families choose to buy cheap bulk items like pasta and white bread.”

Food insecurity could be managed better by having food cooperative shops rather than supermarkets, Graham says. 

Food cooperative shops are member-based and distribute food based on what consumers decide they want and need. 

Food is usually available for people to buy in bulk. Gilmours is an example of this.

Nutrition professor Elaine Rush from Auckland University of Technology, says climate change, farming production prices, farmer worker wages and cost of transport is driving food prices up.

“The cost of petrol for transport has gone up and farmers aren’t getting migrant seasonal workers in to help because of Covid, so they are having to pay higher wages to New Zealand residents.”

Migrant workers are expected to work on minimum wage when entering our country on a visa while New Zealand residents usually expect the minimum living wage which is $2.75 more per hour, Rush says.  

Shipping costs for overseas products have also increased due to supply and demand. 

Rush says because most New Zealand farmers use grains to feed animals, flour is imported.

“Before Covid, the cheapest bread was $1 a loaf. Now it lies around the $3 mark. Everything ties together, from harvest, to production, to supply.”

The real challenge, Rush says, is that people often spend 50 percent of their earnings on food.

Some countries subsidise their food. In the United States, there is a subsidy on corn, wheat, soybeans, rice beer, milk, beef, peanut butter and sunflower oil. 

In other countries such as Australia for example, its goods and services tax is included in the price of food, whereas ours is added at the end, Rush says.

“Food is a necessity. It is not subsidised [in New Zealand] and so often people are trying to spend less by buying cheaper food that isn’t as good for them.”

Top image: Woman stands with a shopping cart in front of a shelf full of food in the bread aisle of a grocery store. / iStock

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