Betty-Rose Cresswell (right) says it’s getting harder to make the budget stretch to feed her family.
Northland families are having to tighten their belts a few more notches as supermarket prices continue to climb, while the Government insists scrutiny of the grocery sector is “delivering lower costs for households”.
Commerce and Consumer Affairs Duncan Webb said the Government was focused on the cost of living issue and was creating “meaningful change” for New Zealanders.
Webb listed a raft of changes being made by the Government following a Commerce Commission report into the supermarket sector which found competition is “not working well” for consumers.
But the changes can’t come soon enough for many Northlanders who are cutting back on healthy items like fruit and vegetables or simply going without.
Kaikohe mum Betty-Rose Cresswell said she and her partner were spending around $280 a week to provide the basics for themselves and their two primary school-aged children.
While their food bill is modest, Cresswell and her partner were both on benefits and their food bill was nearly sucking up one of their weekly Jobseeker payments.
The family is also having to go without fresh fruit and vegetables.
“It’s a lot considering we’re not always getting every single thing, like fruit and vegetables, because of the prices. Even the products aren’t the greatest.
“We used to buy tinned stuff for $1 a can – now it’s $2 a can on special, or $2.80.
“Cream has gone up, and eggs, so you can’t do too much home baking for your children at home. I cringe when I have to pay $15 for 12 eggs. It’s like, ouch.”
Cresswell said she would like to provide more food for her kids, including healthy snack foods and fresh vegetables.
“Cabbages aren’t exactly cheap, and we’re not getting as much mince and cutting back on portion sizes and making everything else stretch.”
They were also having to cut back in other areas, Cresswell said, like “not making too many trips into town, and cutting back on power as much as we can even though it’s winter”.
Food prices were 12.1 per cent higher in May this year than they were in May 2022, according to figures released by Stats NZ on June 12.
The annual increase was due to rises across all the broad food categories.
Fruit and vegetable prices were the biggest driver, up 18.4 per cent, followed by grocery food prices, up 12.7 per cent. Meat, poultry and fish prices increased by 11.7 per cent.
Far North Community Foodbank chairwoman Elsa Whitley said the foodbank was facing “significant challenges” to meet ongoing demand from Northlanders.
Whitley has written to businesses and organisations appealing for donations to help with “alleviating hunger and food insecurity among our most vulnerable”.
“Our primary goal is to ensure no individual or whānau goes hungry.
“However, as demand for our services continues to grow and our whānau suffer, we are now facing significant challenges meeting these increasing demands and needs.”
Whitley said access to healthy food was a “fundamental right, not a privilege”.
“Many foodbanks in New Zealand are facing similar issues due to the cost of living, inflation and shortage of donations.
“These issues are not only felt by beneficiaries, but also the working poor.”
The Commerce Commission report into the national $22 billion retail grocery sector found Foodstuffs and Woolworths were making excessive profits and exerting too much control over the industry.
The report, published in March 2022, recommended a range of remedies to counter the market power of the supermarket giants.
The Commerce (Grocery Sector Covenants) Amendment Act came into force in June that year. It stops big supermarkets from locking competitors out of prime locations.
Webb said restrictions have been removed from more than 140 pieces of land.
“By removing these covenants, we’ve made it possible for competitors to use prime sites that they couldn’t before.
“It’s good progress on one of the many parts of the Government’s ongoing plan to increase competition and bring down prices for consumers.”
When asked where the 140 pieces of land are, and if any were in Northland, the minister’s office said that information hadn’t been provided by Foodstuffs or Woolworths.
Foodstuffs and Woolworths have been approached for comment.
Webb said the Government planned to implement further changes, including appointing a new Grocery Commissioner and requiring major supermarkets to “open wholesale offerings so other grocery retailers have direct access to wholesale groceries at competitive prices”.
Other changes include introducing a “grocery supply code” to address the imbalance in power between retailers and suppliers and unit pricing so people know what they’re paying for.
“In the long term, consumers will benefit from more choice of where to shop for their groceries,” Webb said.
“I am keeping a close eye on what is happening in the sector, and we are already seeing progress.
“New and innovative entrants like Costco and Supie have entered the market, and the Warehouse is expanding its range of groceries and pricing them aggressively.”
Consumer NZ head of research and advocacy Gemma Rasmussen said wages are not keeping up with the cost of our groceries and essentials, “so it’s understandable that New Zealanders are feeling frustrated as prices escalate”.
“The thing about market studies is that they are a spotlight, designed to make recommendations on large and complex markets.
“Ultimately, these recommendations take time to roll out, and consumers will be waiting a while to experience the real-time effects.”
Jenny Ling is a news reporter and features writer for the Northern Advocate. She has a special interest in covering roading, health, business and animal welfare issues.