Fruit and vegetables painted gold

Saving money on produce

Your best way to save money in the produce aisle is shopping seasonally. We’ve covered the best time to buy 21 fruits and vegetables, plus look at issues like organic produce and growing your own.

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Avocado aficionados have had a tough year. Prices for the popular pear have more than doubled in the past 12 months. The average cost of a 200g avocado was close to $3 in January. Depending on where you shop, you could have paid closer to $5.

Fruit and vege prices have a significant impact on your grocery bill. On average, for every $100 we spend on food each week, about $14 goes towards fresh produce.

Buying what’s in season helps keep your budget under control. Apples are at their most expensive in summer before the harvest, while lettuce can more than double in price during winter when it’s not in season.

However, patches of unseasonable weather can throw a spanner in the works. Last year, pumpkin prices jumped 176% as a result of endless wet weather. The vege hit a record $5.78 a kilo.

Dry or wet spells in one part of the country also affect nationwide supply.

Ninety-seven percent of kumara is grown north of Auckland, while 47% of carrots and parsnips are produced in Canterbury. Gisborne and Pukekohe also provide large volumes of produce for nationwide wholesalers.

Canterbury vegetable grower Cam Booker says there’s now a smaller number of growers producing each crop, which means if an area is hit by a flood it can reduce supply and drive up prices across the country.

Along with the concentration of growers, Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman says the amount of land available for growing fresh produce is decreasing. The opportunity to make more cash in export markets also means goods can be scarcer in supermarket aisles.

What to buy when

Based on Statistics NZ price data and produce seasonality.

Summer

  • Avocados
  • Apricots
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbages
  • Capsicums
  • Cucumbers
  • Kumara
  • Lettuces
  • Sweetcorn
  • Tomatoes


Autumn

  • Apples
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Courgettes/zucchinis
  • Feijoas
  • Grapes
  • Tamarillos


Winter

  • Apples
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Grapefruit
  • Kiwifruit
  • Lemons
  • Mandarins
  • Tamarillos


Spring

  • Asparagus
  • Cabbage
  • Capsicums
  • Cucumbers
  • Strawberries
  • Tangelos
  • Yams


All year

  • Bananas (imported)
  • Onions
  • Oranges
  • Pineapples (imported)
  • Potatoes

Fresh produce prices in 2017 ($)

 JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
Fruit
Apples

5.04

4.402.882.52

2.40

2.622.712.592.712.993.303.37
Avocados

6.46

7.3510.7612.9516.92

22.60

15.9912.9612.6612.0811.0511.54
Bananas 2.84

3.04

3.222.922.772.592.732.932.83

2.66

2.822.71
Grapes 9.40

9.75

7.64

6.27

6.366.568.398.637.567.567.578.23
Kiwifruit4.905.84

6.26

5.963.642.73

2.55

2.863.253.424.225.55
Mandarins & clementines5.245.566.71

7.22

5.17

4.22

4.404.954.914.564.594.86
Oranges 3.713.783.643.653.98

4.04

3.593.422.932.83

2.77

3.71
Pears

4.90

4.853.77

3.42

3.543.804.004.064.054.054.074.31
Pineapples2.15

2.01

2.052.182.092.122.132.172.10

2.19

2.142.04
Vegetables
Broccoli & brocolini 6.235.674.939.41

10.56

9.259.438.826.956.835.06

4.36

Cabbage 2.162.38

2.13

2.463.413.453.67

4.38

3.503.183.222.45
Carrots 3.42

3.53

2.832.532.292.30

2.17

2.362.352.282.472.51
Cucumber & gherkins

4.69

4.935.848.409.3410.0514.97

16.18

9.696.045.515.11
Gourds

2.53

2.833.123.042.972.832.712.693.084.685.78

7.08

Kumara5.986.835.88

5.84

7.658.188.398.008.328.84

8.99

8.37
Lettuce 2.833.594.296.21

10.56

7.426.597.095.173.843.16

2.63

Mushrooms11.5211.6511.6011.51

11.81

11.6411.7111.5111.5311.5011.40

11.22

Onions and shallots

2.87

2.802.542.362.142.122.072.162.03

1.96

1.991.99
Peppers, capsicums & chillies 12.0512.3612.4614.915.7817.5818.52

20.64

14.6810.37

10.08

10.09
Potatoes2.252.071.96

1.86

2.031.961.942.122.132.022.162.41
Tomatoes 3.353.643.825.548.038.699.50

10.42

10.027.684.32

3.32

GUIDE TO THE TABLE Price information from Statistics NZ. Products are the 21 most purchased fruit and vegetables. Prices are average per kilo. Green = lowest price in 2017. Red = highest price in 2017.

Shopping tips

  • Keep an eye out for local produce and try to buy goods when they are at their most plentiful.

  • Typically, vege prices are cheaper in summer, while fruit prices are cheapest from June through to August after apple and kiwifruit crops are picked.

  • Avocados, broccoli, capsicums, cucumbers and tomatoes usually show the biggest price fluctuations. Produce imported year round, such as pineapples and bananas, tends to show more price stability.

  • Buying frozen fruit and veges can be appealing for their convenience and cost. Frozen vegetables can lose some nutritional value in the blanching and freezing process. But the loss is typically negligible and frozen products are still a good source of nutrition.

Organic growth

Between 2012 and 2016, spending on organic fruit and vege soared from $4 million a year to $25 million.

Companies must be able to back claims their goods are organic but there’s no mandatory standard. Instead, producers can opt to have their fruit and veges certified by 1 of 4 organic certification schemes.

If there’s no certification label on the produce, there’s no guarantee what you’re buying has been grown to organic standards. To become certified, growers must farm according to animal welfare and environmental rules, such as avoiding synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.

Organic farming has a much smaller environmental impact. But what about the health and nutrition benefits of organics?

A frequently cited 2012 study in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded eating organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but found the limited research available lacked strong evidence that organic foods were significantly more nutritious.

Subsequent studies have suggested organic crops may have lower cadmium content due to differences in fertiliser use. A 2014 review in the British Journal of Nutrition reported organic milk had higher levels of omega 3 than conventional milk, although iodine and selenium concentrations were lower.

But debate continues about the overall health benefits of eating organic compared with conventional produce.

A 2016 European Parliament report found few studies had looked at the effects of organic foods on human health and the evidence available wasn’t conclusive. However, the report did conclude organic farming’s restrictive use of antibiotics could minimise the risk of antibiotic resistance, with “potentially considerable benefits for human health”.

Growing your own

Growing your own fresh produce can save money. But it will cost you in time.

The Koanga Institute, based in Wairoa, has run a 200m² urban garden since 2013. It measures the time and money spent on the garden as well as the value of the yield. Institute co-founder Kay Baxter says it estimates a 40m² garden can produce more than $2000 worth of vege a year. Ms Baxter recommends starting off with herbs and greens if you’re a new grower.

Gardening NZ editor Jo McCarroll said its study of fruit tree growing found you could save thousands growing your own fruit and berries, but you needed to be committed for the long haul. It estimated that over 20 years you could save $1272 with an apple tree, $664 with a peach tree and $5120 with a raspberry bush.

Q&A

It’s often hard to tell because country of origin labelling isn’t mandatory. Some retailers voluntarily label their produce. But we want mandatory rules so you know what you’re buying.

While some produce is grown by the person selling it to you, chances are a decent whack of your bargain basket has been bought from wholesalers. The exception is accredited farmers’ markets. The voluntary accreditation system is run by Farmers Markets NZ and tells you produce is sold by the people who grow it. There are 25 accredited farmers’ markets, mainly in smaller centres.

The produce will either have been imported, grown in a hothouse or kept in cold storage. If you see peaches on the shelf in June, they’re unlikely to have been kissed by the Hawke’s Bay sun. Likewise, if you’re buying apples in January, they won’t be fresh from the farmer and could have come from a cold store.

Yes. The Fair Trading Act requires labelling to be accurate. If you’ve been misled about the origin of your fruit and vege, take the item back and ask the store for a refund.

If you find bad items, take them back with your receipt and ask for your money back.