3 June 2022

How hard is it to avoid the supermarket?

And will it cost a lot more?

The price of groceries is one of the biggest cost-of-living concerns for New Zealanders.

Food prices were 6.4% higher in April 2022 compared with April 2021, and concern about the price of food has jumped significantly.

The Consumer NZ Sentiment Tracker has found groceries went from the eighth biggest financial concern in June 2021 to third in April 2022, beaten only by rent and mortgage payments.

Recently we asked the Government to do more to increase competition in this sector, which is dominated by two main players. Nearly 80,000 people signed our #stopthesuperprofits petition, and the Government listened.

But until something is done, where does that leave shoppers?

We know there are cheaper places than the supermarket to get some groceries – for example, weekend farmers’ markets, butcheries and vegetable co-ops.

But how easy is it to totally avoid the supermarket?

We asked four households to try going for two weeks without visiting the supermarket and let us know how they did.

Household 1: Steffan – single adult, Wellington

Usual weekly grocery spend: $100
No supermarket spend: $150

Steffan usually spends about $100 a week on food for himself and his two cats. He saves money by taking his own lunch to work.

He admits he fell at the first hurdle.

“Honestly, I tried – but the first big shop I had planned was after work and I got home about 8pm and the only things open were the supermarket! Instant fail.”

He realised he needed to plan a lot better, so that weekend he got his cat food from the local pet store, Animates; went to the butcher for his meat; and to the farmers’ market in a neighbouring suburb for his fruit and vegetables. He picked up other things at the local organic store.

Avoiding the supermarket cost Steffan 50% more. His weekly bill was $150, even though some of that was spent at the supermarket that first night.

“Everything took more time – you have to think and plan and be more careful. I like the convenience of the supermarket, the range of options.”

Verdict: Not good. More expensive and frustrating.

Household 2: Maggie and her husband Vince, Christchurch

Usual weekly grocery spend: $142
No supermarket spend: $202

Maggie and her husband usually spend $142 a week on groceries – which includes supermarkets and the Lyttelton market.

In her two weeks of no supermarket shopping, she continued to use the vege market, but added in the butcher, a local brewery, an ethnic food store for spices and The Warehouse for basics such as milk, butter and cleaning products.

“It was definitely a bit of a pain,” Maggie said. “I had to go to small shops, rather than mall shopping with library, pharmacy and supermarket. All were in different directions so I went to some on my e-bike during work-day hours.”

She said the good thing that came out of it was that she and her husband consumed far less junk food, and they had to go out of their way to buy alcohol. She also discovered that The Warehouse has basic products such as milk, butter and washing powder at prices often less than at the supermarkets, especially if they are on special.

The bad news was that it cost them $202 a week, so $60 more than usual.

Verdict: Mixed. “Even though it cost more, Vince is going to local butcher’s on a regular basis as the meat is much better quality – downside he is eating more red meat (Flintstone steaks). We are also getting cheaper milk elsewhere.”

Household 3: Olivia, Andrew and their eight-year-old daughter, Napier

Usual weekly grocery spend: $250
No supermarket spend: $270

Oliva and her husband and daughter usually spend $250 a week on groceries. They already do a fair bit of shopping at their local organic foodstore, Chantal.

“We normally only shop at the supermarket for things like bread and frankfurters, frozen karaage chicken and wraps,” Olivia said.

They were able to get most of their regular foods from Chantal and the local fruit and vege store, but did have to go to the local Four Square for bread and frankfurters.

Overall they only spent $20 more by avoiding the big supermarkets. Oliva said it was also pretty easy.

“We shop early on a Saturday morning to avoid lots of people and get our fresh sourdough bread.”

Verdict: Pretty good.

Household 4: Sarah, Brett and their two children, Wellington

Usual weekly grocery spend: $417
No supermarket spend: $430

Sarah and Brett usually spend around $417 a week on groceries, including bulk deliveries of toilet paper, avocados, peanut butter, tea and other favourites.

Across the fortnight the family did their shopping at the Wellington waterfront vege market, the butcher, a local bakery and the chemist.

“Doing shopping not at the supermarket requires more planning,” Sarah said. “Where are we going? Which part of town? And also potentially more storage – we bought some things in bulk from the vege market because we were there. It also definitely takes more time.”

It didn’t cost them too much more than usual, given the family gets quite a bit delivered in bulk. “And on the plus side, we went to places we wouldn’t usually and had some nice family outings around the shopping experience.”

Verdict: Required more time and planning, but a nice adventure.

Member comments

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G R B.
08 Jun 2022
Two weekly supermarket shopping

Definitely takes planning, sticking to a list and not buying into supermarket distractions. We are 2 seniors and over 2 weeks spend $300 with one significant supermarket shop and then some extras required for specific recipes. Included is about 1.5kg coffee beans costing about $50 but generally no alcohol or sift drinks

Pim A.
04 Jun 2022
Great greengrocer

Our local greengrocer in Mosgiel is excellent. Might not have quite the same range, but always great quality, fresh and usually cheaper than the supermarket.

Dwayne B.
04 Jun 2022
Consumer should stop trying to tell New Zealanders how to live our lives.

Yet another inappropriate attempt at social engineering by Consumer.

It really is none of your business how and where we buy our groceries.

Also, not everyone subsists on a diet of food from farmers markets and smugness.

Supermarkets as a concept aren't the problem - the problem is inadequate regulation and market failure, and this can be addressed by legislative intervention.

Graeme M.
05 Jun 2022
Dwayne B. -

without lobbying from Consumer and others like them there will be no change.

Linda C.
07 Jun 2022
Ask again - who does Dwayne B work for huh?

Don't get why "Dwayne B" feels that Consumer investigating "consumer habits" is in any way controversial!!! LOL!!!

In fact in does help others to assess whether their inclination to cut down/avoid duopoly supermarkets is viable, and whether it would be doable for them i.e. the prior planning required & lack of alternatives close enough to make it practicable against the desire to change their habits.

Particularly liked the "upside" of visiting new places & family time together - for which there is no $$$ value

Tania K.
04 Jun 2022
vegie shops

I try to use local vegetable shops: one local one is very much cheaper but the food is poorer quality so you need choose carefully and use it quickly or it deteriorates. The other is cheaper and very good quality, a little further away. I buy cleaning supplies etc in bulk on line. I grow a heap of vegetables which has really decreased my food bill but is a lot of work and a labour of love. I lived in the UK and like others find the costs of groceries obscene here. The duopoly absolutely needs to go.

Charlotte BB
04 Jun 2022
Supermarket costs

Unfortunately for many (most) of us there are not any alternative to supermarkets, or if there is they are pricier, not conveniently local and operates limited hours or any combination of these. (So I suppose that belies the argument that we are paying more becuse of the duopoly.) Farmers markets would be good if they were convenient and open longer hours - but if you don't have a car then they are out of the question. For us in the northern suburbs of Wellington - it is ridiculous that there are two Countdowns in Johnsonville - the older one in the Mall, and the other one that was built as Big Fresh, became Woolworths and then rebranded as a second Countdown. One of them should be something else!