Waikato supermarket owners are "blown away" by figures showing a 42.5 per cent rise in food prices since 2000.
The news has prompted Labour consumer spokeswoman Carol Beaumont to call for the Government to encourage more competition in the supermarket sector.
New Zealand grocery prices have risen 42.5 per cent between 2000 and 2009, followed by Australia which pays 41.3 per cent more, Britain's prices rose 32.9 per cent and America's were up 28.4 per cent, according to a study out yesterday.
Pak `n Save Mill St owner Glenn Miller said he was trying to obtain a grocery bill from nine years ago as he and his staff doubted the cost of many grocery items had risen to that extent.
He said a can of spaghetti cost 90c in 2000 and now customers would pay $1.09 for the same can. "At Pak n Save the margin we enjoy is lower than many other countries in the world and we think we are still very competitive given manufacturing cost and we try and keep our overheads down," said Mr Miller, who believes Pak `n Save is extremely competitive.
Vege King owner Swaran Singh said prices at his Fairfield fruit and vegetable shop would have risen by up to 10 per cent at the most. In some cases prices had not changed. He said the price tag on asparagus had stayed at $3.99 since 2000.
Progressive Enterprises, which owns Countdown, Woolworths and Foodtown, blamed international events such as drought as the main drivers of food inflation. Progressive spokesman Bill Moore said the group was consistently striving to offer the best prices and its profitability had remained at between 3 and 4 per cent since Australian-owned Woolworths Limited purchased Progressive four years ago. The group said there was plenty of competition between supermarkets, delis, butchers, green grocers and bakeries.
But Ms Beaumont has questioned why New Zealand is not following the example of Australia's Competition Minister, Craig Emerson, whose government was taking "hard measures" and lowering the barriers to other retailers competing with Coles and Woolworths on that side of the Tasman.
She was critical of Consumer Affairs Minister Heather Roy's suggestion that New Zealanders "shop around" to combat some of the fastest-rising food prices in the developed world, saying it had attracted widespread criticism. It was "poor advice" to families struggling with soaring food bills, Ms Beaumont said.
Public comments on news websites and on talkback radio produced a stream of consumers critical of grocery pricing, with many calling for overseas chains such as Aldi and Costco to compete against New Zealand's Foodstuffs (which owns Pak `n Save and New World) and Progressive Enterprises.
Hamish Wilson, of Consumer New Zealand, said there had been some attempts by other companies, such as The Warehouse, to break into the supermarket sector "but it's pretty difficult". The controversy arose in the wake of the Australian study which says the price of food in New Zealand has risen faster than in any other OECD country other than Korea.
- With NZPA