Garth George

Garth George is a Herald columnist

Garth George: More evidence of big Kiwi food rip-off

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Industry keeps silent as readers are outraged by the cost of food and primary products in our country. Photo / Martin Sykes
Industry keeps silent as readers are outraged by the cost of food and primary products in our country. Photo / Martin Sykes

It is strange, is it not, that there has not been a single response to last week's column - at least to the time of writing this one - from any of the industry groups which I accused of ripping off us Kiwi consumers big time?

You would think the spokespeople for the fish industry, the meat industry, the wool industry, and any other industry, including retail, would have been besieging the editor of this newspaper to have a rebuttal published promptly.

The deafening silence, however, tells us something. Either those industries can find no justification for their mark-ups and profits, or they have decided that if they keep their silence, any concern about profiteering along the food chain will simply fade away.

On the other hand there has been a prolific response from readers about the cost of our food, and not just fish and meat. They also express outrage at the cost of dairy products and fruit.

The general tenor of the emails I received is summed up by Mark, who wrote: "I am home in New Zealand temporarily from the United States where I live. Food costs here are unbelievably high."

And Stafford: "We live in a land of 35 million sheep. Where in NZ can I buy an affordable woollen jumper or blanket that is made in NZ?"

Some of the readers say they have been staggered when overseas to find New Zealand-made produce is cheaper than it is at home.

Kerry writes: "The food item that really bugs me is cheese. How come a 500g block of Mainland Vintage cheese costs over $12 in the supermarkets here, is available in Australia (at a Coles Market in Palm Cove, north of Cairns) for less than A$8 ($10.50). It would be a hard job, in a country flowing with milk, not to think that we are being ripped off."

Writes John: "Having returned from Britain two weeks ago I can confirm that I was able to buy chilled NZ lamb in a Tesco's supermarket for about £8 for a whole leg, which equates to $17. I find it incredible that NZ produce can be shipped nearly 20,000km and sell for considerably less than here. As the Londoners would say, 'Are you having a laugh?"'

Murray tops that: "We are Kiwis living six months every year in Europe and find New Zealand incredibly expensive. NZ lamb was on special at Tesco's this week at two legs for £10, or $21.27 in our money.

"Fish is far cheaper," he writes, "as are virtually all other cuts of meat. More galling is buying at Tesco's a 2010 Oyster Bay sauvignon blanc [$20.43 in Foodtown this week] for the equivalent of $9.99."

John says his Kiwi son complained that he couldn't afford to eat a full breakfast at a cafe or restaurant because it cost him $18-plus. Yet a full English breakfast in Sainsbury's in Britain cost the equivalent of $8. Even Jamie Oliver's restaurant, 15 minutes from where he lives and right on the beach, was "only slightly more expensive than a greasy spoon in New Zealand".

John adds: "We desperately need a major investigation into food prices and a Government study into the monopolies and waste inherent in the food industry in New Zealand. In our opinion, and that of all our family and colleagues, New Zealand is in real rip-off mode right now, and we truly do wonder how young families live there.

"Add in telecoms, power prices and insurance costs, plus the high mortgage rates and interest differentials, and we really are heading to Third World status."

Alan, who is just back from a holiday in Britain, quotes prices he paid in a Tesco's supermarket in Dundee, Scotland.

Two litres of icecream, which cost him £1.06, or $2.25, is on sale at Foodtown this week at $6.53; four pork chops cost him £3.23, or $6.87 (Foodtown $9.19); four 500ml bottles of lager cost £2.37, or $5.04 (Foodtown between $14.20 and $17.40); and North Sea fresh cod fillets were £9.99 a kg ($21.25).

Tesco's butter, marked "Made in NZ", came at 98p, or $2.08 (Foodtown $5.50); a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, which Alan describes as "good stuff", cost £4.99, or $10.60 (Foodtown $16 to $25); and Oyster Bay pinot noir £7.50, or $16 (Foodtown $20.43).

Duncan reckons that one aspect that seems to be overlooked is the amount of non-export produce, especially fruit, that gets thrown out because it's "too expensive" to sell, or because the supermarkets won't buy it.

"Sure this may not be the prettiest looking fruit but it will still be edible and many people, given the choice over that and overpriced goods, would still buy it."

Food for thought, eh?

- NZ Herald

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