Winter is starting to bite, but our survey finds the good deals.
It's that time of year when fruit and vege prices start creeping up and the quality starts to slide.
The Herald on Sunday crunched the numbers - and the produce - to test whether Pak'nSave really is cheaper than competitors, whether markets are any better value than suburban grocers and whether the prices and quality are much different between outlets.
We found the cheaper stores came out on top largely because some of their products were heavily discounted, rather than because of overall cheaper prices.
We also discovered a significant increase in quality in the two most expensive outlets.
Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Peter Silcock said the cheapest retailer was not always the best.
"You may pay 10 per cent less, but if you're throwing away 20 per cent of the produce, there's not a lot of point," he said.
The La Cigale French style Farmers Market in Parnell was the most expensive ($10 more than the average), but the produce was claimed to be grown without sprays and the quality was high. There were some bargains - capsicums ($1.50 each) and tomatoes ($4.50/kg) were significantly cheaper at the market. But potatoes ($3.50/kg), bananas ($4/kg) and apples ($4/kg) inflated the total price.
The apples were expensive ($4/kg compared with $2 elsewhere), the quality was a cut above and there were 13 varieties to choose from.
Quality was sacrificed at the cheapest outlet in the survey, Silver Bell Market on Dominion Rd. The store had a bad smell, there were a lot of flies around and the fruit had to be carefully inspected because much was of low-grade quality.
But some of the prices were incredible. A 2kg bag of apples for $1 - and none of them damaged - was the best value we found. Giant broccoli were 90c each and carrots at $1 a kilo were half the standard price.
Although these super-specials brought the total down, many prices were similar to other shops - tomatoes $5.50/kg, potatoes $2/kg, fancy lettuce $1.70 each, oranges $2.90/kg.
Pak'nSave was the second cheapest, after Silver Bell Market. The quality was good, excluding the apples ($2/kg), which had to be picked through to find ones that were not bruised or soft.
The best buy at Pak'nSave was the 1kg pack of eight capsicums for $4. Pak'nSave's potatoes were also the best value ($1 a kilo, $7 for 10kg bag), but broccoli ($1.30 each), tomatoes ($7/kg) and carrots ($3/kg) were more expensive.
Countdown's tomatoes were the most expensive at $7.70/kg, and its 2.5kg bags of potatoes at $6 cost 150 per cent more than loose spuds.
Much of the produce was unnecessarily wrapped in plastic, but the quality guarantee (refund and replacement if you are not happy) was comforting.
It was no surprise to find prices were also cheap in Kumeu. It is one of the fruit bowls of the region and the total came out third lowest.
Overall, there bargains are everywhere, you just have to look for them.By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss