Time for part two of this series – this time I’ll tell a bit about the supermarkets and generally food prices in New Zealand (based on my humble knowledge – do not expect professional information).
If you’ve been to a supermarket here before and you’re from Central Europe or the US/Canada, you’ll have noticed that food prices are significantly higher, especially when it comes to dairy products. It’s certainly odd since the dairy industry generates probably among the highest profits for the country and is generally bigger than the ones in, for example, Europe. The only logical reason is the small, almost non-existent competition on the NZ market; buying a bottle of lower-than-average quality milk will set you back by the same amount of money as average or even better quality milk over in the “Old World”. Let’s start with the supermarkets first.
Don’t be fooled by the different supermarket brandings you’ve seen, they’re all run by two corporations: Foodstuffs (NZ founded & owned, runs New World, Pak ‘n Save and 4 Square) and Progressive Enterprises (Australian owned, runs Countdown, FreshChoice, SuperValue and Woolworths, the latter is identical to Countdown markets). Countdown and FreshChoice is pretty much the same apart from Countdown’s OneClub, so I won’t write about FreshChoice here. SuperValue and 4 Square are also not far away from each other.
Pak ‘n Save is most times the cheapest of them all and the closest to a discounter as they’re known in Europe. They copied the concept of getting discounts for bulk purchases from wholesalers and passing them on to the customers from a supermarket chain in the US which (apparently) has even the same name. Pak ‘n Save markets can be found in all bigger towns throughout NZ, the only area I know of where they’re not present is the West Coast and the Queenstown-Lakes area in the South Island. While you get free bags with your purchases at Countdown, New World and Fresh Choice, Pak ‘n Save charges you for them, so bring your own ones or your backpack. If you’re low on budget, this supermarket will probably be your first choice. Usually they also offer the biggest variety of products – if you don’t mind abstain from good quality food, the “Budget” and “Pams” brands will likely become your best friends!
Countdown was the supermarket I went to first when coming to NZ. The interior looks much nicer than at Pak ‘n Save, but the prices are generally a bit higher (although their offers can regularly compete with Pak ‘n Save). The product range is not as big either, but there are sometimes good bargains to be made here. An outstanding thing from the other supermarkets is the OneClub, which is a loyalty program as we all know it – with the difference that each week, a range of products gets selected and will be discounted for club members exclusively. To encourage people signing up, you’ll find flyers with paper OneCards to cut out in most markets. The card number can be used on the spot if you desire to, but needs to be typed in manually either by the checkout operator or yourself if you’re using a self-service machine. You may sign up for a “real” card (not mandatory), this requires your name and an address where Countdown will send it. Furthermore, if you reach a certain amount of points collected by making use of the card, you can get some presents or vouchers (the usual stuff). Using that card certainly saves money, I recommend it! It’s not possible to use it at FreshChoice.
New World is the fanciest and most expensive of the three “main” supermarkets. Everything looks neat and tidy here, and if you’re looking for the finest food ingredients, you should be able to find them. In my experience New World is only affordable over longer time if you strictly stay with the products on offer every week (apart from the stunning chocolate-banana muffins they sell in Auckland – haven’t seen cheaper and better ones yet!).
4 Square is the mini version of New World with a drastically smaller range of products and can usually be found in small towns and sometimes in outer suburbs of bigger ones. I’d say the prices are even higher than New World sometimes, so make it a priority to shop in the centres rather than in the settlement close to that sight you wanna see!
A few more tips:
- Don’t buy sliced cheese, but one of the 1 kg blocks. It will last you much longer, is much cheaper and you can use a grater to make your own “parmesan” if you need to.
- NZ offers a, in comparison with Central Europe, huge variety of milk bottles. Pay attention to the caps: Blue are the cheapest ones and taste like milk mixed with a bit water, silver is the most expensive one and has cream added to it (the taste is close to the European milk though).
- Bread is always toast (at least by German standards ;)), however the Kiwis distinguish between “toast” (thick slices) and “sandwich” (thin slices); the price for both is usually the same. Go for the brands “Giant”, “Budget” and “Homebrand” for the cheapest options, but be aware that buying other ones for $2 more makes a big difference in taste…the cheap ones taste like they look: Rubber. European style bread is available in some places in the country, but you can count them on your two hands.
- Baked beans are ridiculously cheap if you just want to fill your stomach and don’t want to cook.
- For fruits, veggies and eggs, check if there are local markets nearby your current location. You may score better quality and cheaper stuff there; they mostly take place on weekends.
- Being on a budget doesn’t necessarily mean to avoid everything good. If you like seafood, Coromandel mussels sometimes sell for $1.99/kg (at least in the North Island), another example are two medium-sized salmon pieces with bones and tail for ~$3.
- As in most countries, Asian restaurants and takeaways are the cheapest ones when it comes to eating out (along with the American/Australian fast food chains of course). Kiwi restaurants tend to be very expensive, and I yet have to find an exception.
- Last but not least: If you have spare time, it pays to shop around if you have 2+ supermarkets close to you.
I hope that was helpful, safe travels!