Tomatoes could be the next fresh produce item to reach an all-time high if shelf prices are anything to go by.
In June capsicum prices rose 27 per cent to a weighted average price of $24.16 per kilogram, an all-time high. Now tomato prices are the next to rent upward as they are out of season.
A Stats NZ spokesperson said tomato prices had been going up since March this year as was typical for a seasonal vegetable.
In March the weighted average price was $2.98 per kilogram. It rose to $6.34 in April - the biggest monthly price rise in more than 10 years - and continued to rise in May, up 17 per cent.
As of yesterday at Countdown Fraser Cove, loose tomatoes were on sale for $14.99/kg. At Pak'nSave on Cameron Rd tomatoes were selling for slightly less at $11.99.
Stats NZ wasn't able to provide official July 2021 data this week but said more information about food prices in July would be available on August 12.
The $11.99 price falls short of the highest price per kilogram tomatoes have hit, which was $13.65 in August last year. This was put down to shortages due to Covid-19.
The latest Stats NZ data showed, in general, fruit and vegetable prices rose 15 per cent in June.
This was mainly influenced by rising prices for tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, capsicum, and broccoli.
After adjusting for seasonal effects, prices were up 8.5 per cent, according to Stats NZ.
Bobby Saini, who recently took over ownership of Rotorua greengrocer Fruit Monster, said some customers were complaining about the expensive prices of fresh produce - including tomatoes.
But he said retailers were also feeling the pinch. His store was currently selling tomatoes for $12.99/kg.
"Everything is expensive, and it is affecting everybody."
He said some customers were only taking one or two tomatoes, and others would leave them behind after they saw the price.
"What I have heard from the previous owner is that they said in winter time everything is expensive. But this time it is too much," he said.
Pensioner Rosemary Garraway, who was shopping at Pak'nSave on Cameron Rd, said she was struggling to afford fresh produce at the moment.
"We just buy less because we are on a pension now. It is actually cheaper for us to buy from the cans now or dehydrated."
Garraway said she grew her own cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli to help cut costs.
"At the end of this month, I will start getting ready for the summer vegetables," she said.
Another shopper felt $11.99 for a kilogram of tomatoes was quite expensive and was only able to buy two tomatoes during her fortnightly shop.
A mum shopping at the same Pak'nSave, who had recently moved back to New Zealand after living in England, was surprised fresh produce wasn't more expensive.
"I was expecting it to be a load more expensive because I have heard the cost of living here is really pricey."
Meanwhile, one Fenton Park resident, who did not want to be named, said the prices of fruit and vegetables hadn't had a huge impact on her shopping.
"I'm not really fond of veggies. I live by myself so I only have to buy a little at a time. But no, I wouldn't pay $15 for tomatoes."
Grant Robinson, Countdown's produce merchandise manager, said there were a number of factors putting "additional pressure" on the price of tomatoes compared to this time last year.
"There are a number of things that have put additional pressure on the price of tomatoes including difficult growing conditions both now and over summer, less production and rising labour costs.
"These are all things we navigate as we work with our growers to try and get the best value and quality possible for our customers."
He also said the availability and price of products like tomatoes, which were a summer fruit, changed depending on the time of year.
"We'll continue to work hard to make tomatoes and other food as affordable as we can for Kiwis," he said.
Tomatoes NZ general manager Helen Barnes said it was "usual" for tomato prices to be high at this time of year.
She said producing tomatoes in winter cost three times more than in summer, and the plants only produced one-third of the yield.
Foodstuffs New Zealand head of corporate affairs Antoinette Laird said the price of New Zealand-grown fruit and vegetables fluctuated including season, weather conditions and crop size.
"Tomatoes are a summer crop so they're out of season right now, and although they're currently being cultivated in New Zealand hothouses, the lack of sun this winter will have affected their level of availability," she said.
Restaurant Association of New Zealand national president Mike Egan said customers should expect to see price increases if establishments continued to use out of season produce, like tomatoes, in winter months.
"Most of our members will be engineering their menus to remove these items and switching to seasonal produce instead," he said.
In July Stats NZ consumer prices manager Matthew Stansfield said vegetable price rises in winter were typical.
"However, we are seeing larger rises than usual for this time of the year and for a greater number of vegetables."
The only fresh vegetable prices to fall in June were kumara, pumpkin, and mushrooms.
Capsicum prices rose 27 per cent to a weighted average price of $24.16 per kilogram, an all-time high.
"Capsicum prices follow a very seasonal trend, generally reaching their peak during July or August as more produce is imported during winter," Stansfield said.