Surging tomato prices have pushed up annual food costs by the highest rate in a decade.
The annual food price has increased by 4.5 per cent in December in comparison to the same period in 2020.
The latest report by Stats NZ showed this is the biggest annual increase since September 2011, when annual food prices increased 4.7 per cent.
The main contributor to this latest increase was higher prices for tomatoes.
Stats NZ consumer prices manager Katrina Dewbery said tomatoes nearly doubled in price between December 2020 and December 2021, increasing 99 per cent.
"The weighted average price of 1kg of tomatoes increased from $3.33 in December 2020 to $6.61 in December 2021."
In December the Herald reported overall food prices fell by 0.6 per cent in November compared with October 2021, which was dragged down by a sharp fall in tomato prices.
Then tomato prices fell 49 per cent in November. But, their price was still 54 per cent higher than what it was a year ago.
Then the weighted average price of 1kg of tomatoes fell from $12.04 in October 2021 to $6.16 in November 2021.
"This compares with $3.99 in November 2020."
Infometrics senior economist Brad Olsen said shortages of staff and an increase in wages could have pushed the price of tomatoes to higher levels.
"Tomato volumes look to be smaller this year, with higher input costs for growers, and a difficulty finding staff contributing to tomato prices remaining at over $6.60 per kg.
"Worker numbers across the horticulture and wider primary sector remain lower than a year ago, one of only two sectors with fewer workers.
"The Pepino mosaic virus continues to affect tomato yields too, which is apparently hampering tomato production across New Zealand."
This month's report showed, higher prices for tomatoes were partly offset by cheaper prices for kiwifruit, kumara, and avocados.
At a more aggregated level, grocery foods had the biggest impact on the annual food prices movement, increasing 4.5 per cent. Within this, yoghurt, standard two-litre milk, and fresh eggs were the main contributors.
Restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food prices increased 5.1 per cent. Households spend more on grocery food than on restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food. Therefore, price changes for grocery food have more impact on the index, she said.
Monthly food prices up 0.6 per cent
Food prices rose 0.6 per cent in December 2021 compared with November 2021.
There were higher prices for fruit and vegetables, up 2.6 per cent, restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food, up 0.8 per cent, grocery food, up 0.6 per cent.
These were partly offset by lower prices for non-alcoholic beverages, which was down 1.2 per cent, meat, poultry, and fish dropped by 0.6 per cent.
Within fruit and vegetables, higher prices for potatoes, onions, and apples were partly offset by lower prices for nectarines, courgettes, and cucumbers.
On a seasonally adjusted basis, overall food prices rose 0.6 per cent. This shows that food prices increased by more than they usually do in December.