Buying fruit and veges at a market instead of a supermarket could save a family of four up to $49 a week, a new study has found.
Researchers from the University of Otago in Wellington put together a hypothetical weekly shopping basket for two adults and two children, based on an ideal intake of fruit and veges, and compared more than 3000 prices at various shops.
They found the basket at a market cost $76, considerably less than the nearest rival, an online supermarket, at $113 - and even then they warned that delivery charges could push that price up.
The most expensive option - at $138 - was farmers' markets, which sell only locally grown produce. That was despite about about a third of their produce, including cauliflower, silverbeet, spinach, cucumber and pumpkin, being much cheaper than in supermarkets.
The study also found a mild "halo effect" around markets that operated near supermarkets: their cheaper produce drove the cost of fruit and veges down at the big grocery chains.
Wellington's Hill St farmers' market, as well as Harbourside, Victoria St, Newtown and Porirua markets, and two farmers' markets in Christchurch, were used in the comparison.
The supermarkets were not identified.
Harbourside Market manager Fraser Ebbett said the findings came as no surprise.
Weekend markets were attractive because produce was cheaper and the shopping experience often involved entertainment and stalls selling hot food and other wares.
Harbourside Market operates across the road from New World Chaffers Park in central Wellington, and Ebbett said word-of-mouth reports suggested nearby supermarkets dropped their prices on market days. "I absolutely understand that - they adjust their prices to compete."
The study found supermarkets near markets cut their prices markedly at weekends, and were more likely to discount low-price items. The reason for this was unknown, study co-author Anna Pearson said.
Antoinette Shallue, of Foodstuffs, which owns the New World and Pak 'n Save chains, said the company did not cut prices to compete with street markets or farmers' markets.
Weekend promotions were often added when there was a surplus of produce from suppliers, and Foodstuffs' customer feedback suggested quality at street markets was not as good as at a supermarket, she said.
The university study did not control for quality.
Study co-author Nick Wilson suggested central and local governments could play a part in making it easier for low-income families to buy healthy produce such as fruit and vegetables.
States in the United States gave produce market vouchers to poorer people, he said.
"If these are usable at markets, then this can help support local growers as well - so it can be good for regional employment."
Another approach was for local government to boost support for produce markets, by such measures as providing free stall space.
- The Dominion Post