Food prices have continued to climb in the past year - but the good news is that a flood of seasonal veges has dramatically cut the cost of making a salad.

Prices rose 1.2 per cent in the year to September, the biggest annual increase since February last year.

But New Zealanders' overall grocery bills were largely unchanged from August to last month as increases for milk and pork were offset by falling prices for vegetables coming into season.

The warmer weather helped to drive down the prices of lettuce (44 per cent), cucumber (27 per cent), capsicum (26 per cent) and tomatoes (8.4 per cent) in September compared to August.


However, courgette prices rose 122 per cent. The last time they rose more than 100 per cent was in July 2007.

Fresh milk prices are now at their highest since April last year after a 6.4 per cent rise, the largest monthly increase since a 9.6 per cent jump in July 2007.

The chief executive of the Food and Grocery Council, Katherine Rich, said the rise in the price of some items could be explained by supermarkets ending promotions.

Ms Rich said New Zealanders were spending less of their pay on groceries than they ever had.

"That's what New Zealanders don't appreciate - it's never been cheaper. Generations before us paid about half of their [income] to eat."

Prices were surveyed by Statistics New Zealand by visiting retail outlets in 15 urban areas: Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier-Hastings, New Plymouth, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Timaru, Dunedin and Invercargill.

Six hundred and fifty outlets were included in the monthly survey, including 70 supermarkets, 30 greengrocers, 30 fish shops, 30 butchers, 50 convenience stores, grocery stores and superettes, 120 restaurants for evening meals, and more than 300 other outlets for breakfast, lunch and takeaway food.

The consumer price index for the three months to September 30 is due for release this week and ASB economists have predicted a price growth of 1 per cent for the period.


At Countdown in Mt Eden yesterday, Adam Pendleton, 23, was doing the biweekly shop for his Sandringham Rd flat. He lives with four other men and a woman and the group all share groceries.

Mr Pendleton spent $131.77 and said he had noticed that the price of milk had gone up. He called it "expensive".

But otherwise, he noticed their grocery bills going down, especially since he and his flatmates moved to Auckland from Christchurch this year. "Food's a lot cheaper up here," Mr Pendleton said.