Frugal supermarket shoppers notice price of dairy products, meat increase during lockdown

Milk, cheese and meat are among the grocery items that have gone up in price since the COVID-19 lockdown, frugal shoppers say.

It follows a post on Reddit on Wednesday, in which Auckland supermarket shoppers discussed how much extra they'd spent on groceries during lockdown - though supermarkets told Newshub they hadn't hiked prices.

Antoinette Laird, head of corporate affairs at Foodstuffs NZ, said supermarkets had the "same amount of specials as usual", while a Countdown spokesperson said over 6000 products were on special on Friday.

Asked about any supermarket products they'd noticed had gone up in price since lockdown, members of the 'Cheaper Ways NZ' Facebook group commented mainly on dairy products and meat. 

Some price rises were only slight - others were significant.

"Two litres of milk used to be 2 for $5 at [Pak'nSave] Petone and Lower Hutt, now two for $5.50," Rachel said.

Isobial, co-founder of Taupo Budget Busters, commented that she'd noticed the price of milk go up in July, before the lockdown started. 

From January to June, Value brand three-litre standard milk was priced at $5.25, Isobial said. The price has since jumped by 22c, to $5.47.

"Similar jump in two-litre, from $3.30 up to $3.69 now. Cheaper deals are now available in dair[ies] than supermarkets... we buy 2 x two litre for $7.00," Isobial said.

"I purchased 1kg of cheese from Countdown during lockdown for $15.99, [the] exact same brand and store yesterday was $10.60 (pre lockdown price, not on sale)," another member, Aleisha, wrote.

Sarah said she used to have a rule never to buy mince unless it was under $10/kg. Now, that "never seems possible".

"Same with cheese, 1kg for under $10 never seems to happen any more," Sarah said.

A whole bagged chicken usually costs Rachel $10 at Pak'nSave. During lockdown, she said the price went up to $16.50.

"Never have I ever seen it for that price before," said Rachel.

Another member said her husband noticed the price of meat had gone up.

"Normally two bits of decent steak is $12ish for him and our son but lately it's $15 (obviously it's our choice to buy the better cuts of steak not a BBQ type that is cheaper)," Kirsty said.

A couple of members also pointed out that many of the cheaper supermarket brands were sold out, forcing them to buy more expensive brands.

"Last week, I needed brown sugar, no Pams brand or any others available, only four packs of Chelsea 500gm so I got that at the same price [as] the $1.99 1kg [of] Pams...half the amount but same price," Isobial said.

"I usually buy the 1kg bags of Countdown frozen blueberries... the only options they had in stock were 500g bags of organic blueberries which cost just as much as I normally pay for 1kg," said Suzanne.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) confirmed on Monday that since the change in COVID-19 alert level on August 18, 386 complaints about groceries have been reported through Price Watch.

Mark Hollingsworth, national manager consumer protection at MBIE, confirmed most were in the grocery space.

"[They] are evenly split between fruit and vegetables, dairy and eggs, and meat and seafood," Hollingsworth said.

So far, MBIE hadn't referred any of those complaints to the Commerce Commission as potential breaches of the Fair Trading Act.

"We’d encourage businesses experiencing supply chain issues to let customers know, especially if it may affect delivery or price; and for consumers to be mindful that businesses may themselves be experiencing delays and price increases," Hollingsworth added.