Cost of living: New Zealand food banks seeing wider variety of people who can't make ends meet

The cost of living is hitting New Zealand's city missions and food banks, with one saying there's been a tripling of demand in recent years.

Food prices were 12.5 percent higher in April this year compared to 2022. The surging costs reflected higher prices for fruit and vegetables, eggs and potato chips, Stats NZ said.

This increase was the largest since September 1987, which included the introduction of GST in 1986.

Fruit and vegetable prices surged 22.5 percent year-on-year and grocery prices were up 14 percent.

This pain is being felt throughout Aotearoa, with more New Zealanders either going to food banks for help or not being able to donate as much food to those in need.

Wellington City Missioner Murray Edridge said there's been a marked increase recently and they've seen a tripling in demand compared to three years ago when the COVID-19 pandemic first hit.

There is also a different demographic of clients coming through the door.

"We're seeing people you traditionally wouldn't have seen at a City Mission who are now presenting," he told Newshub.

"Some will have multiple incomes in the family - they just cannot make ends meet. So we're seeing a demand that we haven't seen before. People who would just get by before are now getting to the point where there's just not enough money to go around."

While the impact of inflation on food and groceries is "clearly unhelpful", Edridge said the cost of housing is still the single biggest driver of household poverty in his community.

But with the Wellington City Mission running a social supermarket, Edridge is confident that people are getting good quality and a good quantity of nutritional food.

"I think we're in probably the toughest year that most people have ever seen. Of course, that's been accentuated even more by cyclones and now fires and other things that are causing huge grief in the community," he said.

"It's really important that people pay attention because we've got a community where parts of that community are struggling to put food on the table, and there just appears to be no relief in sight for those people."

Luckily there hasn't been a large drop in the number of people donating, because a number of donors are those for whom the cost of living crisis doesn't have too much of an impact. But for the everyday person on the street, Edridge understands they have less disposable income to go around.

"Our job is to keep the supermarket fully stocked. It's a slightly different model to having enough food coming in to go out, instead we must maintain the stock of the supermarket," he said. 

"So for us, it's a question of whether we've got enough come in or whether we have to purchase food, which we do on a regular basis."

Elsewhere in the country, Dave Letele who runs Brown Buttabean food bank in Manukau, Auckland, said there's been a "big increase" in people contacting them to pick up a food parcel.

He told Newshub they can "never" keep up with demand and there's been a big spike lately not only from individuals but social services too.

And at the Christchurch City Mission, a combination of a shortage of food and rising demand means they are having to limit food parcels to one every five weeks.

"Individual food donations are definitely down because of the cost of living crisis. However, we also have less food overall because of global food chain supply problems and New Zealand disasters," they told Newshub. 

"These have continued to shrink the amount of surplus food available to a charity like us since last year.

"We are going to have to look at purchasing a higher amount of food to meet the need as best we can, but this will be a cost we cannot sustain."

Recent data from Stats NZ showed the cost of living had risen 7.7 percent in the past year, with high-spending households hit hardest thanks to rising interest rates. Its household living costs price indexes measures how changing prices affect different households, such as beneficiaries, superannuitants, Māori, and different income and spending levels.

For the lowest-spending households, prices were up 6.9 percent and for beneficiaries, 6.7 percent. This was due to higher prices for rent, interest payments, grocery food, such as eggs and cheese, and fruit and vegetables, Stats NZ said.

But for the highest-spending household, prices were up 8.7 percent, which was driven by an increase of 38 percent in interest payments.