Food prices were 7.6 per cent higher in March 2022 compared with March 2021, Stats NZ said today.
Food price increases were widespread across the board but led by fresh produce, with fruit and vegetable prices up 18 per cent in March 2022 compared to the same month the year before.
This is the largest increase since the year ended July 2011 when prices increased 7.9 per cent (although that year was influenced by a GST increase from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent).
"There are signs high inflation outcomes are broadening and may increasingly be more persistent," warned ASB senior economist Mark Smith.
"High global food commodity prices and our expectations of higher wage costs are expected to lock in elevated annual food price inflation over 2022."
For that 12-month period general grocery food prices increased 6.7 per cent, restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food prices increased 5.1 per cent, meat, poultry, and fish prices increased 8.7 per cent.
"Average prices for vegetables like tomatoes, broccoli, iceberg lettuce, and cabbage were notably higher than they were in March 2020 and 2021," consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery said.
Monthly food prices rose 0.7 per cent in March 2022 compared with February 2022.
After removing regular seasonal impacts, food prices rose 0.4 per cent. This means that the price increase in the unadjusted series was greater than the expected seasonal increase from February to March.
"Grocery food prices were the main contributor to the rise in March, up 0.9 per cent," Dewbery said.
"This was mainly influenced by higher prices for yoghurt, canned spaghetti, chilled meat pies, and tomato sauce."
Fruit and vegetable prices rose 1.2 per cent in March 2022 compared with February 2022, influenced by higher prices for cabbage, tomatoes, strawberries, and kumara.
"The average price of cabbage increased 28 per cent in March, from $3.92 to $5.03 per kilogram," Dewbery said.
Meat, poultry, and fish (up 0.9 per cent), non-alcoholic beverages (up 0.9 per cent), and restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food (up 0.3 per cent) also contributed to the rise in March.
Data for home rental costs also out today showed rents rising 0.9 per cent, with annual rental inflation easing slightly to 5.8 per cent.
"Dwelling rents tend to follow house prices with a lag and the cooling housing market points to a moderation in rental inflation," ASB's Smith said.
"However, the risk is that elevated rates of headline inflation [which are commonly used to index rental increases] results in high rates of dwelling rental inflation going forward."
Overall consumer price index inflation sits at 5.9 per cent for the year to December.
The figure for the year to March is due next week and expected to be higher led by the spike in petrol prices.
ASB economists have an early forecast of 7.3 per cent, the highest since 1988.