Impact of cost of living increase ‘incredibly tough’

Sharlie Earl, with her daughter Felicity (3), after grocery shopping at Countdown Mailer St, in...
Sharlie Earl, with her daughter Felicity (3), after grocery shopping at Countdown Mailer St, in Dunedin, yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Sharlie Earl knows just how tough things are at the moment.

The Dunedin mother was one of many grocery shoppers spoken to by the Otago Daily Times at supermarkets throughout the city yesterday who said the rapidly rising cost of living was becoming unsustainable.

Figures released by Stats NZ yesterday revealed food prices had their highest monthly increase in five years, rising 2.7% last month.

It was the biggest increase since January 2017, when prices rose 2.8%.

After removing regular seasonal impacts, food prices rose 1.1%.

Food prices often increased in January, but they rose by more than usual this year, Stats NZ consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery said.

The biggest influence on the increase was higher prices for fruit and vegetables, up 9.9% on the month before.

Stats NZ found price rises were also shown on 76% of all items in January.

Ms Earl, who was shopping at Countdown Mailer St yesterday, said she would usually spend about $170 a week, but it was now costing at least $230.

She had noticed the prices of particular items, such as fizzy drinks and bread, had gone up.

The mother of two, who is on a benefit, said it made things "incredibly tough".

While she prepared for increases by budgeting, her rent would be increasing and she was paying winter prices for power during the summer months.

"My base income isn’t going up to meet the price of living — it is not easy," she said.

On a year-on-year comparison, Stats NZ’s figures showed food prices last month were 5.9% higher than in January 2021 — the biggest annual increase since August 2011, when food prices jumped 6.6%.

The main contributor to the 5.9% increase was higher prices for tomatoes.

Last month, the average price of 1kg of tomatoes was $7.29.

That compared with $2.94 in January last year and $3.35 in January 2020.

Fruit and vegetable prices were 15% higher in January 2022 than they were 12 months before.

Another household feeling the pinch of higher prices comprised Dunedin flatmates Bella Digby and Daisy Shrimpton.

The pair, who were shopping yesterday at Pak’n Save South Dunedin, said they noticed fruit and vegetables had definitely gone up.

Usually, the pair would spend about $70 each a week on food, but that was about $100 a week now.

Miss Digby, who is a student, said trying to pay rent, power and internet on a student allowance was hard.

"It is a bit of a struggle," she said.

Another Pak’n Save shopper, Lynley McFadgen, noticed the price of fruit and vegetables had gone up an "absurd amount".

She and her husband were retired and made sure they only bought what they needed.

"I really feel for the young ones; it must be tough," she said

Amanda Thomas spent $400 at Countdown in Cumberland St yesterday and described the price increases as "outrageous".

She did buy more than usual yesterday for her son’s birthday party, but said she was now spending about $150 more a week.

Cheese and fruit and vegetables were where she had noticed the biggest price increases.

"Every time I go, it’s going up and I feel like you can’t budget," she said.

January increases

• Meat, poultry, and fish prices  - up 3.6%.

• Grocery foods - up 1.6%.

• Non-alcoholic beverages - up 3.6%

• Restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food - up 0.3%.