Inflation: Countdown prices 1kg block of Mainland cheese at $21.50

Unless you've been living under a rock, you and your bank account will be sorely aware that inflation is packing an almighty punch on prices across Aotearoa. 

The latest Consumer Price Index figures revealed that annual inflation had hit 6.9 percent in the March quarter - the largest year-on-year rise in nearly 32 years. It had also increased from the 5.9 percent recorded for the year to December 2021, itself the highest since 1990. 

The rising cost of living has seen pain at the pump, with petrol prices in central Auckland hitting an all time high last week - a staggering $3.15 for a litre. It's also a sad story at our supermarkets, with the cost of food ballooning by 6.4 percent in April 2022 compared with April 2021 - making the weekly shop a nightmare for families on lower incomes. Inflated prices have also been observed at eateries and fast food chains, with Kiwis outraged over the recent price hike at Subway that has seen a six-inch sandwich priced at almost $10.

With all that being said, it's sadly no surprise that a 1kg block of cheese has been selling for $21.50 at Countdown as the price of milk and production costs skyrocket.

At the time of writing, the block of Mainland Tasty Aged Cheddar is currently on sale for $20 - a saving of $1.50. 

A spokesperson for Countdown told the New Zealand Herald there is "significant pressure" on the price of cheese due to "record-high" farmgate milk prices and strong international demand for New Zealand dairy.

"We know that price is incredibly important to our customers, and we'll continue to work hard to make food as affordable as we can, but the reality is that we can't absorb all of the cost increases we are seeing right now and this is being reflected in our on-shelf pricing," the spokesperson told the Herald.

Comparatively, the same Mainland Tasty Aged Cheddar Cheese is priced at around $17 at Pak'nSave, with the 700g block coming in at $14.89 - the same price as Mainland's 1kg blocks of Mild and Creamy Edam and Smooth and Creamy Colby. New World also has their 700g variety priced at $14.89. 

In 2016, the average cost of a kilo of cheddar cheese was just $7.68.

The Mainland 1kg block of aged cheese is currently on sale at Countdown for $20.
The Mainland 1kg block of aged cheese is currently on sale at Countdown for $20. Photo credit: Countdown

Earlier this month, Countdown announced it would temporarily freeze the prices of 500 items in a bid to counter the rising cost of living.

The supermarket behemoth said a variety of so-called winter staples, including tinned tomatoes, butter, cheese, sugar, flour and shaved ham, would be included in the temporary freeze.

Whatever price the products were on May 9 is the price they will remain at for the duration of winter, no matter what happens with inflation.

Recently the chief executive of Countdown's parent company Woolworths said it was simplistic and unfair to blame supermarkets for the increases in prices. However, a Commerce Commission report released in March found there is a lack of competition in New Zealand's grocery market, with prices appearing high by international standards. It estimated the two main players are making about $430 million in excess profits each year.

"There's no doubt it's tough out there," Countdown's packaged goods and everyday needs commercial director Steve Mills told Checkpoint.

"We're all paying more for fuel, transport, raw commodities, labour, particularly in the farming community - animal feed, fertiliser, export charges."

On average, Mills said he is seeing price increases from suppliers of about 9 percent. Countdown has received about 1000 price increases in the past 10 months, he added -  more than double what the supermarket saw last year.

Mills acknowledge that many Kiwis are now struggling to buy a block of cheese and he hoped the freeze will help to make the weekly shop more manageable.

However, the initiative hasn't been universally well-received. The day after the freeze was announced, AM's panel admitted they were "sceptical" and "dubious", with Newshub Investigations Reporter Michael Morrah branding the move a "PR exercise".

A few days later, The Spinoff published a "deep dive" into Countdown's price freeze, which noted that fresh fruit is glaringly absent from the list of 'essentials', while bacon and smoked salmon are the only included meats. One 'essential' pack of salmon is price-frozen at $90 per kilogram, making it one of the chain's most expensive items by weight.

Pasta, cooking oil and toilet paper were also omitted, although 37 dessert items were included - as well as 19 'essential' wines. Despite having room for 29 different snacks and lollies, only three varieties of vegetables made the cut - pumpkins, onions and carrots.