Price-conscious shoppers on the biggest price hikes they're seeing for grocery staples

Grocery staples such as lettuce, butter, cheese and mince are costing a lot more, shoppers say.
Grocery staples such as lettuce, butter, cheese and mince are costing a lot more, shoppers say. Photo credit: Getty Images.

Price-conscious shoppers are noticing price hikes for many grocery staples this year, particularly leafy greens such as lettuce along with dairy products and meat.

It comes as food prices jumped 2.7 percent over January - the biggest monthly jump in five years. Fruit and veggie prices rose 9.9 percent, the biggest contributor to the monthly rise, StatsNZ figures show. 

Milk, cheese and eggs rose by 9.4 percent and meat, poultry and fish prices by 3.6 percent.

Asked by Newshub which grocery staples they noticed had gone up in price this year, members of the 'Cheaper Ways NZ' Facebook group commented mainly on lettuce, butter, cheese and mince.

Online supermarket prices* on Wednesday show one single iceberg lettuce costs $3.99 at Pak'nSave (bagged), and $4.50 at Countdown. Cheaper options, such as 'coral' lettuce, are priced at $3.79.

But shoppers say along with prices of other fresh veggies, lettuce prices have gone higher, one person saying lettuces have "gone up with a bang".  A few said they'd seen lettuce prices close to $6.  

"Lettuce - nearly $6 in the middle of summer… also tomatoes $5 a bag about $1 each, broccoli, in fact, all veggies and fruit," said one person.

"Lettuce between $5 and $6 and it's summer," said another.

Another said lettuce, $6 each in summer months when they are plentiful is "crazy".

"We buy very little fresh stuff at the moment with prices. Grow lettuce and tomatoes. Buy only bananas, potatoes and carrots," another person said.

Many also commented on prices for dairy products, one person saying "anything dairy is crazy prices" and "seems to jump up without notice".

One person commented they'd seen the price for a block of butter reach $6.50. Two others noticed the price for a 1kg block of cheese "went from $10.60 to $11.80 in a week".

Supermarket prices* on Wednesday show the cheapest 500g butter available is the Countdown brand for $5.60. Other brands (e.g. Mainland, Tararua, Alpine and Anchor) are priced from $7 to $7.50. 

At Pak'nSave, a 500g block of Anchor butter is $6.39.

A 500g block of butter costs anywhere from $5.60 to $7.50.
A 500g block of butter costs anywhere from $5.60 to $7.50. Photo credit: Newshub.

The cheapest 1kg block of cheese is the Rolling Meadow cheese, available at Pak'nSave for $10.20. At Countdown, the cheapest 1kg option is the home brand Colby cheese, for $11.80. At New World, Pam's Edam cheese is the cheapest, a 1kg block costing $11.89.

"Cheese has become a stupid price and went to get veggies on Saturday…cauliflower $7.99 each and apples over $5 a kilo," said one.

"Everything has gone up but I notice butter, cheese etc [is] rarely on special," said another.

Others noticed the price of milk had gone up, one person saying they use milk powder in coffee, tea, cereals and to make yoghurt.

The price of mince had gone up as well.  One person said "mince and sausages" are "no longer a cheap meal", and use lentils and beans to bulk meals out.

"Meat has gone up 20 percent in the last year.  This can't be blamed on inflation, which apparently is only 6 percent, and most of it is produced here.  

"So why the massive increase?" one person asked.

Mince can be cheaper to buy in 1kg trays, which can be split into smaller portions and frozen. At Pak'nSave on Wednesday, 1kg of NZ beef mince is $11.99 ($1.20 per 100g).  At New World, NZ beef prime mince is $13.99 ($1.40 per 100g).  Countdown 1kg beef mince (grass fed) is $14.50.  

Cat food, toilet paper, eggs and frozen mixed berries were among the other grocery items group members noticed had gone up.

Among the strategies members said they use to manage price rises are growing their own fruit and veggies, shopping at roadside stalls and local veggie shops and stretching out food with tinned tomatoes and lentils. 

Two people said shopping less, e.g. every eight or ten days instead of seven saves them money.   

Responding to Newshub about lettuce prices, a Countdown spokesperson said due to several adverse weather events, supply is "significantly down".

"Rainfall in December meant a number of growers missed their plantings, which would have been coming to market now."

Emma Wooster, corporate affairs manager at Foodstuffs NZ, which operates Pak'nSave and New World, said popularity, seasonality and weather affect prices, particularly for fruit and veggies. COVID-19 and inflation have added another layer of complexity to food prices.

"The price of fuel, equipment and ingredients is all going up and it’s severely impacting NZ's retailers, importers, growers and manufacturers, who are all having to pass some of these increases on to New Zealanders," Wooster said.

Mince could be purchased on special, frozen and defrosted as needed.  Buying what's in season, looking for specials, planning their shop, comparing prices and buying house brands, could also help shoppers save money.

*Online prices quoted for supermarkets based in central Auckland.