Cost of living: Fair Go surveys the supermarkets

Inflation, egg-flation, the summer that wasn't (if you're in the North Island); they're all playing their part keeping us paying more at the checkout. But is that all that's driving prices? How do the big three compare with how much they charged for the very same stuff at the same time last year?

Fair Go has returned to the shelves to check prices on some common grocery items - the very same items we shopped for in mid-February 2021 and 2022, on the same weekday at the same three competing stores in Auckland - a Pak'n'Save and New World which are both under the NZ-owned Foodstuffs umbrella and a Countdown, the major Australian-owned competitor in grocery retail.

The Fair Go basket is a selection of basics and treats - milk, bread, butter, cheese, eggs and bacon, cereal and yoghurt, soft drinks and chocolate and laundry powder. For consistency, we stick with the same brands even if there is a cheaper option on sale that day.

What stood out was that what was once luxury shopping is now economising.

The cheapest basket in 2023, which costs $76.95 and happens to come from the Pak'n'Save store, is more expensive than the most expensive basket we calculated two years ago in 2021, which at $75.50 came from the New World store.

Looking back just a year, to compare prices at each store:

  • The Fair Go basket we filled at Countdown cost $83.07 meaning in a year it rose $5.79 or 7.5%.
  • At Pak'N'Save, that shop was $76.95, meaning a year added more - $6.39 or 8.8%.
  • At New World, our 2023 basket of the same items cost $11 more which is a 14% increase in one year

Foodstuffs says most New Zealanders shop the specials at the supermarket and the percentage increases in Fair Go’s selection of products are predominantly down to specific products being on special at a point in time when they were measured in 2022.

It also says that if Fair Go substituted for cheaper brands that were on special on the day, instead of sticking with the same brands, it estimates the increase at New World would have been more like 5.5% on the previous year and Pak'nSave 7.2% instead, based on its own figures.

"Our teams are fighting inflation hard and working their socks off to keep prices low for our customers. We’re doing this by buying well and finding efficiencies in our business. We’re proud we’ve kept our prices below food inflation for the last nine months, according to the Stats NZ Food Price Inflation Index," a Foodstuffs spokesperson says.

That Food Price Index is running at 10.3% for the year to January 2023.

It's important to note that Foodstuffs told Fair Go it is comparing that index to an aggregate number from its 550+ Pak'n'Save, New World and Four Square stores.

That means it's not necessarily keeping prices under inflation at each and every store, so where you shop and what you buy could mean you face price rises of less or more than the headline inflation rate, which explains the results we found.

Countdown pointed out there are a lot of factors that affect prices, including what it pays workers and what it costs to ship groceries, plus tax, seasonal variations and other factors like weather - which we all know is costing everyone more as the climate crisis deepens.

"We know it’s a tough time and our team is working hard every day along with our supply partners to ensure we’re getting the best value we can on shelf for our customers," a Countdown spokesperson told Fair Go.

In a year where the cost of living is really biting, that’s likely to be tested every week at every checkout, by all of us.


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