How do NZ grocery prices compare with overseas? We have the receipts

New Zealand’s grocery prices are among the highest in the world. But just how much cheaper is bread, cheese and booze around the globe? George Driver investigates.

When I first visited Europe, every day was like Christmas. I bought unaffordable delicacies for pocket change. I had French camembert for breakfast, Spanish chorizo on a baguette for lunch, washed down with a Belgian beer or a Bordeaux wine, all for less than the price of a pint of Speights.

When I returned to New Zealand in mid-winter, I recall visiting the Papatoetoe Pak’n’Save and it nearly broke me. Not only were the foods which I had become accustomed to well out of my budget, but even the basics were relatively unaffordable. Cauliflower cost more than a bottle of Montepulciano. A cabbage was more than a round of French camembert. A loaf of Molenberg cost more than prosciutto.

After a year of saving and sulking I returned and moved to Belgium where, despite working part time at a bar for about $20 an hour, I lived a culinary lifestyle I will probably never experience again.

So when the Commerce Commission announced that New Zealanders were getting ripped off by the supermarket duopoly it came as little surprise to the well-travelled. In its report, the commission compared the cost of groceries throughout the OECD and New Zealand’s prices were sixth highest out of 38 countries (see chart below). Groceries in the UK are a third cheaper, in Belgium they are 29% cheaper, while in the US groceries cost about 28% less (although we can thank our lucky stars we don’t live in Iceland, Norway, South Korea, Switzerland of Japan, where groceries are even more expensive than Aotearoa).

Comparison of cost of groceries throughout the OECD showing that New Zealand is sixth most expensive (Source: Commerce Commision, July 2021)

But what exactly does that price difference look like in your shopping basket? To demonstrate the price of groceries around the world, I’ve gone on a hunt to compare NZ groceries with five countries: Canada, the US, the UK, Australia and Belgium. I’ve looked at seven items in a somewhat booze-heavy basket (and in retrospect it is alarmingly devoid of vegetables), which includes: a loaf of bread, a dozen eggs, a litre of milk, a kilo of cheese, a kilo of bananas, a bottle of wine and a box of beer (12 stubbies or 4 litres). I justify the booze as it is usually the most expensive item in my trolley and is also an item which varies greatly between countries.

I’ve opted for two versions of the basket – one basic and one somewhat fancy. In the basic basket I’ve bought the absolute cheapest item I could find, while in the somewhat fancy basket I’ve gone for the cheapest “fancy” version of each product to demonstrate the relative affordability of luxury items. This includes ciabatta or sourdough bread, free range eggs, organic milk and bananas, a European-style cheese, a cheap but drinkable wine and a European lager. All prices have been converted to NZD and volumes have been converted to be comparable.

New Zealand

Basic basket: $43.39

Somewhat fancy: $50.63

First, the benchmark basket from New Zealand. To give our country the best chance, I’m shopping online at Pak’n’Save and have a basket filled with the staple brands of Pam’s and Value (formerly Budget). The cheapest box of beer comes in at $15.79, while an eminently drinkable cleanskin pinot costs just $6.79. The fancy basket gets ciabatta from the deli, a 110g round of the somewhat plastic-tasting Ornell French-style camembert, a bottle of Montana Winemaker Series pinot (on special for $9.79) and a box of slightly more upmarket European long-necks.

Basic basket: $43.39 

Value White Sandwich – $1.35

A dozen caged Sure As Eggs – $3.79

1l Pam’s Standard – $2.49

1kg Pam’s Edam – $10.29

1kg bananas – $2.89

12 Haagen – $15.79

Cleanskin pinot noir – $6.79

 

Somewhat fancy: $50.63

House-baked ciabatta – $2.99

A dozen Farmer Brown Free Range Eggs – $5.59

1l Naturalea Organic Milk– $3.69

110g Ornelle Camembert – $3.49 ($31.72 per kg)

1kg organic bananas – $5.29 (Countdown price – Pak’n’Save doesn’t sell organic bananas)

12 Heineken – 19.79

Montana Winemaker Series Pinot Noir – $9.79

Belgium

Basic basket: $25.49

Somewhat fancy: $36.60

First stop on the world tour is Belgium and my former local supermarket chain, Delhaize. While most items are cheaper than the NZ basket, it’s the price of booze which really sets this basket apart. The beer-proud nation (apparently low-alcohol table beer was served in schools into the 1970s) may be the only country where supermarkets sell homebrand beer. It retails for 35 cents per 250ml swappa-crate bottle (but you can buy it by the bottle at the same price) and tastes like it’s been filtered through a sock, but is drinkable when served ice cold. A bottle of French dry white table wine is also a bargain at just $4.69. Belgium also excels at the somewhat fancy, with a kilo of brie costing less than a kilo of Pam’s edam.

Not included in the basket but worthy of note, the staple cheese I ate in Belgium was the ubiquitous French Le Rustique camembert – it’s $3.03 in Belgium, but is $19.99 on a Club Deal special at my local New World.

Basic basket: $25.49

Baguette 2 pack – $1.60

A dozen 365 Essential eggs – $2.27

1l Delhaize full milk – $2.50

1kg 365 Essential Jong kaas – $7.02

1kg bananas – $1.83

12 365 Essential Blond Bier – $5.60

Pichet de France dry white wine – $4.69

 

Somewhat fancy: $36.60

Large whole grain fresh baguette – $3.86

A dozen free range eggs – $3.76

1l Pur Natur organic milk – $3.34

200g 365 Brie – $1.64 ($8.20/kg)

1kg organic bananas – $3.37

12 Stella Artois – $15.59

Bordeaux Rood – $5.02

UK

Basic basket: $32.68

Somewhat fancy: $39.94

Browsing Tesco online is an exercise in envy. Searching its cheese category for the lowest prices is extraordinary. A 210g pack of mozzarella costs $0.85; 200g of French brie costs $1.56; 200g of Greek feta for $1.68. Basics are also eye-poppingly cheap, with the lowest price for bread and eggs of all of the countries. The UK basket just comes in behind Belgium due to the price of booze, but even the alcohol offers great value compared to New Zealand.

Basic basket: $32.68

H W Nevill’s Wholemeal Bread – $0.71

15 Tesco Eggs – $1.90

2 pints (1.13l) Tesco Whole Milk – $1.58

1kg Creamfields Mature Cheddar – $8.77

1kg bananas – $1.44

4l Biere D’or beer – $12.36

Tesco Zesty White Wine – $5.92

 

Somewhat fancy: $39.94

Tesco Sourdough – $3.37

A dozen Tesco Medium Free Range Eggs – $3.35

1l Tesco Organic Whole Milk – $1.76

200g Creamfields French Brie – $1.56 ($7.80/kg)

1kg organic bananas – $2.67

12 Heineken – $17.82

Tesco Montepulciano D’abruzzo – $9.40

Australia

Basic basket: $55.23

Somewhat fancy: $56.49

Across the ditch we are at Coles supermarket, where you can get a bottle of red and a block of cheese for a bargain, but a bunch of bananas will nearly cost as much as a bottle of Brut Cuvée. The country has import restrictions on bananas to protect its growers, so is perhaps unfairly punished by this basket of goods.

Beer in Australia is also the second most expensive of the countries analysed and if you buy it in a six pack, you’ll pay a premium. But Australia has the cheapest milk on the list at $1.15 a litre.

You can’t buy booze at the supermarket, so I’ve gone to the BWS liquor chain.

Basic basket: $55.23

Coles White Bread – $1.36

A dozen Farm Fresh Cage Eggs – $3.88

1l Coles Full Cream Milk – $1.15

1kg Coles Cheddar Block – $8.40

1kg bananas – $4.72

12 Toohey’s New – $31.50

Riverside Landing sauvignon blanc – $4.20

 

Somewhat fancy: $56.49

Light Rye Sourdough Vienna – $4.20

A dozen Coles Eggs Free Range – $4.10

125g Coles Wrapped Camembert Cheese – $3.15 ($25.20/kg)

1l Coles Organic Full Cream Milk – $1.99

1kg organic bananas – $5.77

12 Heineken – $27.82

McGuigan Black Label Cabernet Merlot – $9.45

USA

Basic basket: $33.88

Somewhat fancy: $51.79

I’m shopping at the Kroger supermarket in the US where a block of cheese is called a “bar”, bread and milk is enriched with vitamins and everything seems to come in homebrand. Wine in the States is also the cheapest out of all of the countries, with a bottle of cabernet sauvignon at just $2.80. However, the lack of European-style fancy cheese and bread significantly inflates the somewhat fancy basket price – out of 8,618 products listed under “cheese” there were only two for brie and one for camembert. As a result, the somewhat fancy basket is more expensive than in New Zealand.

Like Australia, alcohol is not available at the online supermarket, so a generic liquor store has been used.

Basic basket: $33.88

Kroger Enriched White Sandwich Bread – $1.77

A dozen Kroger Grade A Medium Eggs – $1.97

Quarter gallon (946ml) Kroger Vitamin D Whole Milk – $2.40

907g Kroger Mild Cheddar Cheese Bar – $9.92

1kg bananas – $1.53

Hectare Cabernet Sauvignon – $2.80

12 Bud Light – $13.47

 

Somewhat fancy: $51.79

Goldminer California Sourdough – $4.95

A dozen Nellie’s Free Range Eggs – $5.67

226g President Brie Cheese Wheel – $7.08 ($28.32/kg)

1l Simple Truth Organic Whole Milk – $2.13

1kg organic bananas – $2.16

12 Heineken – $19.86

Belvino Prosecco Extra Dry – $9.92

Canada

Basic basket: $51.35

Somewhat fancy: $73.73

I’m shopping at Walmart in Canada, where you can buy milk in a 4 litre bag. Most prices look a lot closer to home here, but the lack of budget booze results in the basic basket costing about $8 more than New Zealand, while in the fancy basket (where a box of Heineken costs nearly $40), it pushes the price $26.70 above the NZ basket. Cheese is also the most expensive at $12.88 a kilo, while the paucity of a cheap brie also hit the somewhat fancy basket (although $4.52 for a Danish castello still looks like a bargain compared to Pak’n’Saves’ Ornell camembert).

Again, liquor isn’t available at supermarkets online, so a generic liquor store has been used.

Basic basket: $51.35

Great Value Enriched White Bread – $1.85

A dozen Great Value Large Eggs – $3.38

Sealtest Homogenized 3.25% Milk – $2.56

1kg Great Value Medium Cheddar Cheese – $12.88

1kg bananas – $1.39

12 Bowen Island Harbour Mixer beer – $20.39

Clarity Ruby Red VQA wine – $10.16

 

Somewhat fancy: $73.73

Your Fresh Market Kalamata Olive Bread – $2.79

A dozen Conestoga Farms Free Range Brown Eggs – $6.45

125g Castello Brie Danish Cheese – $4.52 ($36.16/kg)

Natrel Organic Fine-filtered 3.8% Milk – $3.58

1kg organic bananas – $2.17

12 Heineken – $39.54

Chateau Bonesperance Bordeaux Rouge – $14.68

 

The results: All figures are in NZD

RESULTS

Incredibly, New Zealand beats out Australia and Canada in this comparison to come a respectable fourth overall, while the country’s somewhat fancy basket even pipped the States to come in third.

In the final medal table, the somewhat fancy and the basic baskets have been combined. The winner, Belgium, is 31% cheaper than New Zealand (almost identical to the Commerce Commission’s analysis), while the Kiwi baskets are 38.3% cheaper than in Canada, mostly on the back of the high price of Canadian booze. Overall, the Canadian baskets cost more than double the Belgian baskets.

See a breakdown of how each grocery item contributes to the country’s overall basket cost here.

1 Belgium: $62.09

2 UK: $72.62

3 USA: $85.67

4 NZ: $90.42

5 Australia: $111.72

6 Canada: $125.08




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