Louise Gibson laughs, a bit hysterically, when asked if there’s cheese in her cart.
On Tuesday, the Lower Hutt woman searches through the grocery store she just paid $163 to prove that milk and margarine are the only similar products there.
There is, however, a box of Weet-Bix, a bag of frozen potatoes and vegetables among the pile, and a huge packet of sausages.
“Cheese?” she said putting a packet of toilet paper in the trunk, “I’m not sure my kids remember what it is.”
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If you think grocery shopping can’t be any more depressing than it is right now, spare a thought for the folks who found out this week that it was indeed.
On a wet afternoon in a crowded car park, a handful of dispirited New Zealanders encountered something almost as unpleasant as the prices they had just paid for groceries: a reporter asking them if they weren’t not satisfied with their purchase invoice.
This is, admittedly, a stupid question. Grocery food prices were 6.4% higher in April this year than a year ago, with increases in all food categories measured. Fruits and vegetables increased by 9.4% and meat, poultry and fish by 8.1%.
So while those who wanted to share their shopping lists and receipts were a diverse group, the experience they just shared was a common one.
All seven spent more money than expected, strayed from the products they intended to buy and, during a week when a block of tasty cheddar hit $21, none bought any cheese. .
Gibson says it was at the supermarket that the surging cost of living in New Zealand really hit her. The 39-year-old single parent started noticing some items piling up a few months ago, but now says everything is more expensive and feeding two young children is getting harder and harder.
“We don’t buy fresh fruit or vegetables, everything is frozen and the meat is either sausages or ground meat. We are not at the cervelas soup stage, but we are not far from it.
While Will has no cart or last name – “call me Mr Broke” – he does have a paper shopping bag, the contents of which cost him around $35. He got coffee and a loaf of bread for his pains, as well as deli ham, washing powder and a bottle of wine.
He admits he could have chosen cheaper brands, but he felt like indulging today: “I never thought I’d call a $5 ham a treat.”
The college student hasn’t moved into his parents’ house for a long time to save on rent and says food costs really hit the house when his mother started demanding he contribute for groceries , which she had never done before.
“All jokes aside, things are really bad. Food prices are all everyone talks about now, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a hard time paying for it.
Jim Hulme walks to his hatchback when he is challenged with a question about how he feels after his store.
“Wonderful,” he said, “I like paying too much for groceries, don’t you?”
The pensioner’s views on journalists are not reportable, but the contents of his cart are: his main items are both fresh and frozen meat, cleaning supplies, potatoes and milk. The store cost him about $80, and he thinks that’s $15 more than a few months ago.
Like Gibson, he’s stopped buying fresh, and cheese hasn’t been on the menu for ages. Today he decided to buy beef, but chose cheaper chicken cuts instead.
He says he is financially well off even though he worries about families who are having a tough time.
“A lot of us older people talk about the difficulty we had, but New Zealand is worse now than it has ever been.”
Helen Williams says her biggest savior right now is the free meals her kids are getting at school. Today’s shop cost her around $180 and that’s not even a full week’s worth, she’ll be back in the aisles in the next few days.
“It’s really grim. We also get free lunch leftovers, and it’s sad how much of a difference that makes.
Like everyone else, she ditched fresh veg in favor of frozen, and although she didn’t have time to go to the farmers’ market, she’s going to give it a try this weekend.
“There’s no way it’s more expensive than what I pay at the supermarket.”
Four days later, Lower Hutt’s Riverside Market is packed with Saturday shoppers determined to cut out the supermarket middleman and save on fresh produce.
Richelle Mullins has cycled here from her Eastbourne home, propelled by the prospect of cheaper food, and she’s not disappointed.
“We’re only two in our house now, and you’d think we’d spend less, but it’s still $300 a week because the price of meat and vegetables is insane.”
Carrying a bag full of lemons, bok choy, lettuce and apples, Mullins has spent $10 so far and says the market experience has been an eye-opener. Not only do things cost less, but they’re also bigger and cooler.
“The prices in the supermarkets are out of control and I’m never buying from them again.”
Aiste Kandrotiene and Kestas Kandrotas mind their collective business when they’re not only asked to answer silly questions, but also pose for a photo.
Both men are market regulars who have been frequenting a range in the area for about four years. They’ve known for a long time that it’s a cheaper place, as evidenced by the $17 spent today on bananas, tangerines, tomatoes and potatoes.
“We are from Europe and these are crazy prices. The vegetables here simply shouldn’t cost as much as they do,” says Kandrotas.
Beth Romeril recently converted to the market, changing her behavior over the past six weeks to avoid buying produce from the supermarket.
“It’s not cheap to buy food for three kids anyway and the quality isn’t very good.”
Although wife Naenae hasn’t sat down and calculated how much she saves by shopping at the market, she says it’s definitely a cheaper way to buy.
“It’s actually not that convenient to come here, it’s a bit of a pain, but it’s definitely worth it.”