Kiwi vegans decreasing amid cost of living crisis, more households spending $300-plus on weekly food shops

The number of Kiwis following a vegan diet has dropped amid the cost of living crisis, new research has revealed, with New Zealand households now spending an average of $238 per week on food - up 9 percent from last year.

A recent survey of households, commissioned by agribusiness bank Rabobank and food rescue organisation KiwiHarvest, highlighted that the cost of the average weekly shop has risen by 9 percent since 2022 - on par with the 8 percent increase in food prices in the year to September.

"Recently released Stats NZ data found food prices were up by 8 percent in the year to September, so it's not surprising to see the average household food spend rising by a similar percentage," Rabobank head of sustainable business development Blake Holgate said about the findings.   

"At the top end, the survey found there's been a sizeable increase in the number of households now spending more than $300 per week on food - up to 21 percent from 15 percent previously. At the other end of the scale, there are now fewer Kiwis saying their household spends $200 or less per week on food - down to 53 percent from 59 percent previously."  

Despite the rising prices, the survey found New Zealanders' grocery shopping behaviours have largely remained in line with those identified in 2022.  

Most Kiwis have continued to favour a main grocery shop and then 'top-up' shopping as necessary (72 percent), with a further 19 percent saying they will only do one 'main shop'. The remaining 10 percent said they only shop as and when they need specific items.  

The survey did, however, uncover a few minor changes in shopping behaviours, which Holgate said are likely motivated by a desire to keep the weekly food bill down.  

"As part of the survey, participants were shown images of two carrots which were exactly the same inside - one which was imperfectly shaped and cost $1.30 per kilo, and another with regular appearance which cost $3.99 per kilo - and asked to nominate which they are more likely to purchase," he explained.  

"The survey found more Kiwis are now opting for the cheaper, imperfect option (47 percent from 40 percent previously) as opposed to choosing the more expensive, regular-shaped option (37 percent from 45 percent in 2022)."  

Holgate said this finding indicates a growing preference for imperfect fruit or vegetables due to their lower price-point.  

"Imperfect fruit and vegetables provide the same nutritional benefit as their regular-shaped counterparts, yet they can often be purchased for a significantly lower price and therefore provide shoppers with a great alternative to help keep food costs down," he said.  

"Improved attitudes towards misshapen fruit and vegetables are also likely to help reduce the amount of fruit and vegetables thrown away, thus reducing food waste and its associated negative environmental impacts."

Number of Kiwis identifying as vegan on the decline

The research also found a significant drop in the number of New Zealanders who identify as vegan. While the percentage of vegetarians was unchanged at 9 percent, the percentage of those who follow a vegan diet had dropped to 3 percent - down from 5 percent in 2022.  

There was also a dip in the percentage of Kiwis who said they were planning to reduce their meat consumption.  

"Across recent surveys, we've seen around 30 percent of respondents saying they are planning to reduce meat consumption, citing a range of reasons for doing so, including perceived health benefits, the cost of buying meat, and a desire to reduce the impact on the environment," Holgate said.  

"These reasons continue to be the key drivers for Kiwis who say they are looking to reduce the amount of meat they eat; however, the survey data does suggest attitudes towards meat may be changing.   

"Only 25 percent of New Zealanders are now saying they are planning to reduce meat consumption, while at the other end of the meat-eating spectrum, 9 percent of Kiwis now say they plan to eat more meat (up from 7 percent previously).  

"And when we dig a bit deeper into this data, we find these percentages are much higher among those in younger generations, with 17 percent of those in Gen Z saying they plan to eat more meat and 14 percent in Gen Y."  

The 2023 Rabobank-KiwiHarvest Food Waste survey was conducted by independent research agency Kantar and involved interviews with 1501 New Zealanders between July 25 and August 14, 2023.