Food prices increase 8.3 percent annually, leading to calls for action by politicians, supermarket head blames global headwinds

A jump in the price of grocery items like two-minute noodles, yoghurt, capsicums and broccoli has contributed to another significant annual increase in overall food prices.

The National Party says rising prices are "crushing" New Zealanders, while the Green Party wants the Government to immediately introduce support "so people can afford nutritious food".

Meanwhile, the head of one of New Zealand's main supermarket companies says there are a "complex set of headwinds" being faced by retailers globally. 

Stats NZ revealed on Thursday morning that food prices were 8.3 percent higher in September 2022 than they were a year prior. That's the same as the jump in the year to August, both the highest since July 2009. 

The growth was propelled by a 7.7 percent increase in grocery food prices, with yoghurt, two-minute noodles and tomato-based pasta sauce the largest drivers within the group. 

Fruit and vegetables were the second biggest contributors, with capsicums, tomatoes and broccoli being the biggest influencers on price in this group.

Restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food prices jumped 6.9 percent year-on-year, meat, poultry and fish prices rose 6.7 percent and non-alcoholic beverage prices grew 4.8 percent.

The month-on-month price hike isn't so dramatic. Between August 2022 and September 2022, prices grew 0.4 percent. With a seasonal adjustment, overall prices were up 0.9 percent between August and September. 

Stats NZ consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery said while fruit and vegetable prices dropped 0.1 percent between August and September, when seasonal effects are taken to account, they rose 3.9 percent. 

"This seasonal movement for fruit and vegetables indicates that based off previous patterns a larger fall in fruit and vegetables for the September month is more typical," said Dewberry. "This helps explain why the overall seasonally adjusted movement is higher than the unadjusted increase."

The 0.4 percent lift in overall food prices between July and August compares to a 1.1 percent jump between July and August and a 2.1 percent increase between June and July. 

"Non-alcoholic beverages had the largest impact on the 0.4 percent monthly rise. This was led by increases in the cost of large bottled soft drinks (up 3.4 percent), instant coffee (up 5.2 percent), and poured soft drinks for example, at cinemas or fast-food outlets (up 2.2 percent).

"The second largest contributor to the overall monthly movement was restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food, which rose by 0.6 percent. This was driven by rises in the price for hamburgers (1.7 percent) and takeaway pizzas (2.0 percent)."

Prices are up 8.3 percent on last September.
Prices are up 8.3 percent on last September. Photo credit: Getty Images.

'Crushing Kiwis'

Reacting to the latest figures in a press statement titled, 'Food prices keep crushing Kiwis', National Party finance spokesperson Nicola Willis said New Zealanders' budgets are being slammed.

"It's impossible to get ahead under Labour. Food is up, rent is up, and petrol is up. With wage growth lagging inflation so significantly, it's no surprise that Kiwis are getting pummelled," she said.

Willis called on the Government to tackle "bottlenecks in the economy", like immigration settings she said are "constraining growth and driving prices up higher". 

"The Government keeps blaming events overseas for runaway inflation, but the prices of food grown at home are skyrocketing."

Businesses have been complaining about the difficulties in hiring workers in what is a tight domestic labour market with near record-low unemployment. 

To address this, the Government's made a number of moves in recent weeks. They include increasing the cap on workers who can come to New Zealand under the Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme, removing a qualification requirement for migrant chefs, and reopening the skilled migrant category

"We are listening closely to the concerns of businesses, many of whom have approval to hire migrants but are finding it difficult to recruit internationally in a constrained labour market," Immigration Minister Michael Wood said on Wednesday after announcing the skilled migrant category change.

"Today's changes work in tandem with the immigration changes already made and will help further relieve labour shortages, and ensure an competitive edge to attract talent to New Zealand."

Immigration Minister Michael Wood has made a number of changes recently.
Immigration Minister Michael Wood has made a number of changes recently. Photo credit: Newshub.

ACT's David Seymour said those immigration changes showed the Government had "conceded" it needed to act on domestic issues worsening inflation.

"Its expensive ideological experiment of starving the horticulture industry of workers partially ended last week when it raised the cap on RSE workers," he said.

"More generally, the Government has started to walk back its immigration reset, but only partially with skilled migrants requiring 180 points by next year."

Ricardo Menéndez March, the Greens' spokesperson for commerce and consumer affairs, said the Government should respond to the sky-high food prices by introducing new supports for those doing it tough.

"Lower-income families who spend the majority of their income covering the essentials like food and rent, are hit the hardest," he said. "Coupled with record high food prices, the pressure on families is immense and it's forcing people to go hungry."

"Peel back the layers of the cost of living crisis and what we actually have is an inequality crisis."

The Government's repeatedly said the primary drivers of inflation, which is being experienced globally, include supply chain disruptions caused by COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine.

It has, however, acknowledged the difficulty it's having on New Zealanders. In a speech last month, Grant Robertson said everyone is feeling the hurt.

"Our inflation, though below the OECD average, has caused a significant cost of living crisis for New Zealanders, and hardship for many. Everyone has taken a knock," Robertson said.

The Government has introduced a number of supports this year to soften the blow of rising prices, including the cost of living payment. It is also continuing work on its response to the Commerce Commission's inquiry into competition in the supermarket sector. 

Finance Minister Grant Robertson.
Finance Minister Grant Robertson. Photo credit: Newshub.

'Complex set of headwinds'

Foodstuffs NZ managing director Chris Quin, who has just returned from a trip to the US and Canada to meet with other grocery retailers, said they're dealing with a "complex set of headwinds". 

"We're all facing the same set of challenges driven by the three W's - war, wages and weather. We're also seeing the same changes in consumer behaviour, where value is now king."

He said while prices grew 8.3 percent in the year to September, the average cost increase from suppliers to Foodstuffs cooperatives on the same products measured by the Food Price Index was 10.3 percent. 

The retail price increase in Foodstuffs stores was 6.8 percent, Quin said, below inflation. 

"Globally, producers are saying that they aren't seeing an end to inflation and that they're paying higher prices for labour, commodities and packaging. It's the same story here in New Zealand," Quin said.

"Acute labour shortages continue to be one of the biggest problems facing businesses. The labour squeeze is not only hurting our industry, but also our producers. Fruit and veges are going to cost more if we don't have enough people to pick, pack or stack them on shelf.

"Now we've also got the added challenge of a weaker New Zealand dollar, which will push up the cost of importing groceries further."