Berries lead 'festive' price rises

OLIVIA WANNAN
Last updated 05:01 24/12/2013

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By all means have yourself a berry merry Christmas - but be aware that the price will have shot up in the past few days.

Fairfax Media compared the prices of a number of popular Christmas fruit and vegetables yesterday to what they cost on Friday at three Wellington supermarkets.

Strawberries shot up at all three - Countdown Newtown, New World Wakefield St and Pak'n Save Kilbirnie.

At Countdown, half a kilogram of strawberries would have cost $4 on Friday, but $6 yesterday.

At the others, the berries were up by 80c at Pak'n Save to $3.48 for a 250g punnet, and by 50c at New World to $3.99 for a 350g punnet.

At New World, cherries had also risen by $2 a kilogram and raspberries by $1 a punnet. But at Countdown, cherries had dropped by $3 to $14.99 a kilogram.

Grapes, green beans and kumara did not change in price.

Countdown said seasonal fruit and vegetable prices fluctuated regularly, mainly due to weather, supply and demand. Rain a few weeks ago affected strawberry supplies.

As expected, there was also extremely high demand at this time of year - across December, the chain was expecting to sell more than two million punnets.

Foodstuffs supermarkets North Island retail general manager Rob Chemaly said that, as strawberry growers had enjoyed a bumper season, prices earlier in the month were extremely competitive.

Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin expected there was a strong financial motivation behind the rise in berry prices.

"I'm surmising it's about making profits while you can, since it's Christmas time, when people are caught."

Her advice, especially to people in rural communities, was to check out the price at local fruitgrowers' stalls before buying at the supermarkets.

Best Berries general manager Phelan Pirrie said growers relied on high demand and low supply at Christmas to be able to set a higher price.

The beginning and end of the growing season might be the only time they could turn a profit, he said.

The Auckland farms were now coming to the end of their season - earlier than in normal years, he said.

But strawberries were never at their peak at Christmas.

"We tend to think of strawberries as a summer fruit, but really it's a spring fruit."

An unusually hot November had also affected the crop, with most varieties flourishing in colder, wetter conditions, he said.

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- The Dominion Post

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