Fruit and vegetable prices going sky high

Filling your shopping basket with fresh fruit and vegetables will cost you almost 6 per cent more than it did in January last year.

And in the space of just one month, between December 2012 and January 2013, the price of fresh fruit and vegetables shot up 3.5 per cent, the latest Statistics New Zealand's monthly Food Price Index showed.

The high fruit and vegetable prices has driven up the overall cost of food shopping, Statistics NZ prices manager Chris Pike said.

Leading the charge is lettuce, up 20 per cent since December last year, along with broccoli, which is up 38 per cent.

If you want to buy apples, you will be paying the highest price since 2008.

The cost of kumara is up 98 per cent since 2012 and avocados are up 86 per cent.

"High kumara prices were influenced by poor weather conditions in both the planting and harvesting seasons, which affected the crop in 2012," Pike said.

Funky Pumpkin Colombo St, Christchurch, manager Jim Fairlie, who has been in the grocery industry 65 years, said a hailstorm that passed over Southbridge and Leeston late last year is to blame for high lettuce prices.

"We've had weather with extremes. All the lettuces were munted," he said.

Fairlie said the price consumers pay was a result of simple supply and demand economics.

Leigh Catley, communications manager of Horticulture New Zealand also blamed the sky-high lettuce prices on demand for summer food.

But what of the mark-ups that producers put on food?

Catley said large supermarket chains mark up fresh produce roughly 100 to 200 per cent from what the grower is paid.

Each store has its own formula for mark-ups that can change weekly or even daily.

The cost to keep fresh produce in a saleable condition, as well as the transport costs, also have to be factored in.

Countdown, however, said it aims to sell a lot for a low price.

"On average, for every dollar customers spend in our stores, our business makes five cents profit before we pay tax so margins aren't excessive.

"Margins for fruit and vegetables haven't changed over the last year and the price on the shelf really reflects the price that we pay for the product from our suppliers, plus the cost of doing business," their spokesman said.

But if you want a more reasonably priced shopping basked brimming with fruit and vege, the industry recommends you buy seasonal produce.

"Seasonal, with a capital S," Catley said.

"Seasonal vegetables to watch out for now are carrots, parsnips and eggplants."

Taranaki Daily News