By Tom Taylor of RNZ
The price of some vegetables like kūmara and broccoli has doubled since Cyclone Gabrielle swept through New Zealand and decimated vast areas of crops.
Customers should get used to the higher prices, which could linger until after next year’s harvests, some supermarkets say.
“I usually spend $30, now it’s gone up to $40 or $50, so it makes it hard,” one shopper told RNZ’s Checkpoint.
“Cauliflower, broccoli, it used to be $1.99 and now it’s gone up to $4. It’s only a small little broccoli so it’s not really worth it.
“So basically, when they say you’ve got to eat healthy, you can’t afford it.”
At Auckland greengrocer Point Chev Fresh on Tuesday, assistant manager Manni Singh said he had never seen such a big increase in such a short time.
“The kūmara price has gone up to $9 a kilo,” Singh said.
“Normally, we were selling it for $4.50.”
At Fruit World Grey Lynn on Tuesday, kūmara had shot up to $12.99/kg, while broccoli heads were $5.99 each.
Store manager Hitul Patel said his business had no choice but to pass the cost on to customers.
“Everything looks inflated. It looks like we are really busy, but actually, our margins have dropped quite a bit.
“The prices have gone up, so obviously it will show the sales have gone up, but the actual margin of the product has dropped.”
Fruit like apples, which were diversified across New Zealand, had more resilience than vegetables like kūmara, he said.
The vast majority of New Zealand’s kūmara stock came from Northland’s Kaipara District, which experienced severe flooding during the cyclone.
Rain had also impacted the quality and shelf life of green vegetables like lettuce, rocket, and cauliflower.
After the current price increases, Patel expected potatoes and onions to follow in the medium term.
“Right now, a lot of growers have suffered quite a lot of losses. They have to replant, and it takes time.
“Nothing can be done overnight, unfortunately.”
Customers at supermarket chains Countdown and Foodstuffs had also seen their vegetable prices shoot up.
“In some places, there’s an extra 10 bucks, but there’s not much I can do about it,” one shopper said.
“I’m a uni student, so if it’s a dollar more, it’s a dollar more. I’ll put that on StudyLink, so she’ll be right.”
Another shopper said price rises were inevitable.
“They’re going to increase, unfortunately. [It’s] supply and demand, and with all the bad weather, the farmers are going to have a difficult time trying to match that.”
On Countdown’s online store, red kūmara were selling on Tuesday for $14/kg while at Pak’nSave they ranged from $8-11/kg.
If prices remained this high, they could be on track to beat the record monthly average of $8.99/kg set in November 2017.
A Countdown spokesperson said the chain was experiencing challenges with its bagged salads, coleslaws, lettuce, and kūmara - but carrots, onions, and potatoes were still in plentiful supply for the time being.
Last week, Countdown senior leaders visited Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne to understand how to support its producers.
“We partner directly with over 100 Kiwi growers and we’re working really closely with them to understand the effects Cyclone Gabrielle has had and will have on our fruit and vegetable supply to make sure we have all the essentials in store for Kiwis.”
Foodstuffs said it was unclear how high kūmara prices could reach until the harvest was complete but customers could expect higher prices all the way through the year until the next harvest in February 2024.
At one of New Zealand’s biggest wholesalers MG Group, chief executive Peter Hendry said it was up to the customer how long these prices stayed up.
“If the demand’s still strong and the volume’s not there, then the prices will stay high,” he said.
“But... there’ll be a point where the consumer says, ‘I’m not going to buy that anymore’, and demand lessens until the price gets to the point where they’ll re-engage.”
Around the country, Hendry said Hawke’s Bay’s apple exports would be impacted, while Gisborne’s supply of citrus fruit would suffer in the short to medium term.
The impact of flooding in Pukekohe could see gaps in the market for onions, potatoes, and leafy greens in months to come.
Although prices were likely to climb, consumers could do simple things to cope during this time, he said.
“It’s just being sensible around your purchasing.
“Sometimes consumers waste a lot of produce at home; it’s just making sure they’re buying sufficient volumes for their current needs and maybe doing a bit more regular shopping, making sure they keep their produce fresh and don’t have that waste.
“The pricing will soften over time; just at the moment with these weather events, it’s going to be a bit of a battle for a few weeks.”
Trials were underway to grow kūmara in other parts of the country, increasing its resilience against future severe weather events, he said.