High prices turning dog tucker into dinner

Food prices rose 16% in the year to October.
Food prices rose 16% in the year to October.

The traditional Kiwi meat and three veg dinner appears doomed.

Ever-rising prices are forcing Kiwi families to look for bargains and get creative in the kitchen, sometimes resorting to meat cuts usually reserved for pets.

Last week Statistics New Zealand revealed food prices rose 2.2% in October. But the hike in fruit and vegetables was double that average – up 4%. And meat, poultry and fish were also up more than the average – by 2.9%.

Fruit and vege prices normally fall in October with warmer weather, making the October rise worse than usual. The blame has been put on the GST rise and bad weather.

But looking back to the start of the year paints an even starker picture. For the year to October, total food prices (including booze and the cost of dining out) rose 5.1%, but fruit and vegetable prices rose by 16.4%.

Last month the Ministry of Health released the first national survey of children and young people's physical activity and dietary behaviours.

It found that only a third are eating the recommended five servings of fruit and vege a day.

The price hikes are driving changes in eating habits.

Families are moving from expensive steak cuts to mince and lamb shanks, says William Eriksen, director of Auckland's The Neat Meat Company.

"They're getting the cheaper frozen cuts to try to stretch the budget out over the week, to try to feed their family.

"They're moving to cheaper cuts like oxtail, things that traditionally they wouldn't have fed to their dog a while ago."

It doesn't mean meals have to be any less appetising, though.

"The fact is, the cheaper cuts of meat are actually the most flavoursome, but you just have to have more time to cook them," Eriksen says.

"Having said that, there are a lot of cooking shows and it's becoming quite cool to cook."

The rising cost of food has also seen more families turn to food banks.

The Salvation Army's Captain Gerry Walker says it is a concern. "It's a different group to that we've experienced in the past."

He says they try to ensure food parcels are balanced, but fresh meat and veges are rare.

"In the cities that just isn't a reality. It's a luxury and often reserved for Christmas."

Arrowtown Butchery's Evan Dennison, working in the trade for 28 years, says: "Ten years ago I used to be able to sell a quarter of mutton for $10.50. Now a leg of lamb costs between $30 and $40."

He says his customers are turning to smallgoods like sausages and mince.

New Zealand Beef and Lamb chief executive Rod Slater says people are far more conscious of specials and price promotions.

"I still believe smart Kiwis can find a good value meal for their family," he says.

Nutritionist for 5+ A Day Bronwen Anderson says it's possible for a family of four to buy a week's fruit and vegetables for $40 or 28c a serving.

She suggests buying what's seasonal and sensible, making smart choices, and using veges as "inexpensive extenders" to make the meat go further.

"I picked up two chips of strawberries for $4," she says. "Tell me where you can get a snack for $2."

Sunday Star Times