Price of ‘healthy food basket’ continues to rise

Press Release – University of Otago

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Price of ‘healthy food basket’ continues to rise, Otago research reveals

The cost of buying healthy food in a weekly supermarket shop continues to grow, the latest New Zealand Food Cost Survey carried out by the University of Otago shows.

Basic healthy food costs for a family of four in Auckland, Wellington and Dunedin increased by between $4 and $21 weekly over the past year, with Christchurch bucking the trend showing a decline of $3.

“The price of a healthy food basket continues to rise,” lead researcher, Senior Lecturer Louise Mainvil from the University of Otago’s Department of Human Nutrition says.

In Auckland, “basic” healthy food costs ranged from $29 weekly for a one-year-old to $74 for an adolescent male. The weekly cost for a family of four including an adult male ($71), an adult female ($60), adolescent boy ($74) and 10-year-old ($52) was $257 a week.

Dr Mainvil says most of the cost came from fruits and vegetables (31 per cent), meats/proteins (28), and dairy (13).

She notes this weekly cost represents 42 per cent of a full-time (pre-tax) weekly income on the minimum wage. It is a concern when the cost of healthy food takes up any more than 30 per cent of a household’s income, Dr Mainvil says.

“Anytime that figure goes above 30 per cent, that’s when there is stress on the food budget,” she explains.

“If more than 30 per cent goes on food, then that puts more pressure on the family if a child needs a new pair of shoes for school or the car needs a warrant of fitness.

“People on minimum wages have difficulties paying the rent and buying food.”

Dr Mainvil, who is also a registered dietitian, says families on low incomes are likely to have a poorer diet. In order to ensure their children are not hungry, they are more likely to limit healthy foods, which costs more, and replace them with less healthy foods that “fills their bellies” and costs less.

“It’s cheap to get calories, but in reality it’s expensive to get the nutrients.”

Other future threats to healthy food availability include reduced food supply due to global climate change impacts and increased food demand with population growth, global food security and use of some foods as bio-fuels, Dr Mainvil says.

The University of Otago has conducted the annual New Zealand Food Cost Survey since 1972, updating the methodology in 2014 to ensure food types and amounts were culturally acceptable and achieved both Ministry of Health dietary guidelines and nutrient requirements.

The availability and retail price of 150 foods in four large supermarkets in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin are recorded annually. The broad variety of foods covered in the “basic” menu include fruit (fresh and canned), vegetables (fresh, canned and frozen), meat and poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, breakfast cereals, spreads, tea, coffee, milo, sugar, other ceals like pasta, rice and flour, fats and oil, cheese, milk, yoghurt, bread and limited “other foods” including tomato sauce and plain water crackers.

Historically data shows weekly food prices increase by about one or two dollars annually, Dr Mainvil says.

While this year’s survey shows food prices in Christchurch declined from $247 a week for a family of four in 2017 to $244 this year, Dr Mainvil says prices fluxuate from year to year. Last year Christchurch’s food prices were not cheaper than the other main centres.

There are likely to be some anomalies with the historical Christchurch data as a result of repercussions following the earthquakes, she says. For example, in 2014 the weekly food cost was $260.

In the other main centres weekly food cost increases over the past year for a family of four were: Auckland $236 to $257, Wellington $250 to $260 and Dunedin $243 to $247.

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