Five plus a day keeps the doctor away, but the cost of fresh vegetables has increased year-on-year.
So why does the prices of vegetables keep rising, and what can we do to get our five plus a day without breaking the bank?
How much are we paying now – and how does that compare to five years ago?
It’s no secret the price of vegetables has soared in New Zealand in the past five years.
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Fruit and vegetable prices leapt 17 per cent, year-on-year, in February driven by tomatoes, broccoli and iceberg lettuces. Tomatoes have hit high prices this year due in part to problems with disease.
In March 2018, lettuce cost $5.87 a kilogram, broccoli was $8.35, mushrooms were $11.30 and tomatoes were $4.65, according to Stats NZ’s Food Price Index.
Weeding, composting, hoeing, sowing and transplanting an entire summer vegetable garden in a weekend.
In February 2022, lettuce was $6.99 a kilogram, broccoli was $11.91, mushrooms were $14.02 and tomatoes were $4.68.
What are the most expensive vegetables you can get, and the cheapest?
It all depends on wether the vegetable is in season or not.
When fruits and vegetables are out of season, the cost of importing them is factored into the price.
Tomatoes, capsicums and kiwifruit had the biggest price jumps per kg when they were out of season last year, Statistics NZ’s food index showed.
In February, tomatoes were $2.54 a kg, but in September it had reached more than $16 a kg.
In the winter months, capsicums are imported and cost up to $25.25 a kg, compared to $8.56 when in season.
In the winter, prices are higher because it is more difficult and expensive to grow produce.
In March, some vegetable prices were higher because the country was facing a shortage due to wet weather in December and February, which prevented growers from planting for up to three weeks.
Now, growers are struggling to plant, pick and pack due to Omicron labor shortages.
Vegetables that had little price changes and were available all year round included cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, cauliflower, and celery.
Chairman of Vegetables New Zealand John Murphy says the seasons are “just a reality” of growing fruit, vegetables and other crops in New Zealand.
“The season fundamentally affects grower returns. Bad weather destroys crops while good weather floods markets. This can be the difference between a grower’s business surviving or the grower being forced to sell up,” he said.
Vegetables NZ has a membership of about 800 growers, while the vegetable sector has bout 1100-1500 businesses and employs 10,000 people under seasonal conditions.
Murphy said local vegetable growers’ returns have not increased for at least 10 years, while freight, labor and compliance costs had risen significantly in that time, and increased markedly since late last year.
What are the tricks that help shoppers save money?
“Shopping seasonally is probably the best way to ensure you are getting the most bang for your buck with vegetables,” Murphy says.
And when you’ve got the produce home, storing your vegetables correctly is a good way to stop them going to waste and ultimately losing your money.
That includes storing lettuce in an airtight container with a paper towel to keep it crisp, cutting the stem off a broccoli and keeping it in water if it’s going off, and storing potatoes and onions separately to avoid sprouting.
Pretty much all vegetables can be frozen, which can save on money and wastage.
Shopping around at smaller, local produce stores will often give you better deals – or you could even plant your own.
Instead of buying a 300g bag of peeled baby carrots at the supermarket, you can buy a packet of 1000 carrot seeds to grow your own for the same price.
And for the same price of a 250g vacuum pack of pre-cooked and peeled baby beets, you can buy a pack of 200 seeds.