Families feel bite of food cost

With food prices at their highest in three years, low-income families are feeling the pinch.

Food prices were at their highest level in the year to June 2014 since they peaked in July 2011, increasing 1.2 per cent, according to Statistics New Zealand.

Methodist Social Services Palmerston North food bank co-ordinator Stacey Rohloff said the number of people going to them for food parcels has increased in the past six months.

"It's people who have never come to a food bank before and it's never entered their head that they would need food bank assistance.

"They haven't got any other issues, it's just that they do not have enough money to meet the rising prices of food. We've had some really upset families coming in."

The food bank had not only seen a rise in demand but a decrease in fresh food donations in the past year. Rohloff said most donations they received were packaged food, usually cans.

"We don't get any meat donations whatsoever anymore, the price is just too dear for families who donate to even think about donating that kind of stuff.

"We hardly ever get donations of fresh veges, fruit, anything."

Prices for meat, poultry, and fish rose 3.6 per cent last month, the largest monthly rise since July 2011. Vegetable prices rose 8.9 per cent, while fruit prices fell 0.5 per cent.

The price of milk was up 11 per cent, cheese up 12 per cent, yoghurt up 7.2 per cent, and butter was up 12 per cent in the year to June.

Palmerston North mother Desiree Chalmers said her wallet had felt the sting of the increase.

She had a strict budget that allowed only the basics. "Anything on top of that is a luxury."

Nutritionist Melanie Durette said fresh food was preferable.

"The bottom line is that real food is the key to good health and with rising food prices there are many people who will be eating less of it.

"Canned and other processed foods are not only less nutritious but usually have added sugar, oil and other artificial ingredients that can further compromise our health.

"Frozen meals and meats can be unhealthy choices too because they often have added ingredients that increase the calories, fat and sodium content of the meal."

Frozen vegetables and fruits could be a good, more affordable option as long as they were not packaged in sauces or syrups, Durette said.

The average price for the cheapest available 2-litre blue-top milk was $3.62 in June, compared with $3.19 in June last year.

The price of tomatoes, lettuce and cucumbers all rose last month. The average tomato price of $9.25 a kilogram in June compares with $8.97 in June last year.

However, prices for mandarins, oranges, and bananas fell in June.

Manawatu Standard