New Zealand shoppers order groceries from Australia as inflation soars


Tins of spaghetti, soap, pasta shells and raw almonds: purchases more commonly carted into New Zealand homes by shopping trolleys and car boots than jetted on international flights. But as prices hit new highs, shoppers are taking drastic measures – including ordering groceries for delivery from Australia.

“It’s almost like Christmas,” said Belinda*, a Wellington woman who said she now regularly ordered groceries online from across the Tasman to supplement her local shopping. Browsing Australian groceries, she said, she was startled by the range of products and how much cheaper they were than those stocking New Zealand shelves.

The Guardian compared two shopping carts compiled by Belinda – one from an Australia-based multinational which delivered to New Zealand, the second to have the same items delivered by one of New Zealand’s largest supermarket chains. In total, even with the currency conversion, cost of GST and a small customs fee, she saved almost NZ$70 (AU$64) on a $267 shop – or about $80 including the local supermarket’s delivery charge. “The only ​​downside also is that a lot of things are currently unavailable because of stock issues. But I think that’s because everybody started to do it,” she said.

In late March, an Otago woman gained national attention after she posted her Australian-purchased shopping cart on social media. She told TV 1 that while she had saved about 35% on her groceries by bulk-buying nuts, dry goods and toiletries, she was unlikely to repeat the experiment. “I wouldn’t recommend others do it because the order is flown in so it’s not good for your carbon footprint,” she said.

“Also I now have 10 toothbrushes and a year’s worth of almonds to get through.”

Shoppers speaking to the Guardian said that while time consuming, the practice had saved them more than 25% on equivalent shops at home. A number of the shoppers were concerned about the climate impact of flying their goods in rather than buying locally – but said with food prices rising steeply in New Zealand, the practice illustrated the desperate measures families were taking to alleviate costs.

In March, food prices in New Zealand were 7.6% higher than the year before, the largest annual increase in over a decade. Fruit and vegetables were up 18%, hitting many households that were already stretched by high petrol prices, rising rents and increasing mortgage payments. On Thursday, annual inflation hit 6.9% – the highest in three decades. Earlier in the week, finance minister Grant Robertson said he believed it would continue to rise, pushed up by international pressures.

Emma Anderson, 38, from North Canterbury, said she had started ordering from Australia as groceries at home became increasingly unaffordable, and got the idea after seeing another woman’s experience in an online budgeting group.

“The prices have just gone screaming through the roof,” she said. “It’s just completely overboard – it’s certainly making me rethink how I grocery shop.” Now, Emma will compare prices across several supermarkets and in Australia to find the best deal before purchasing.

In July 2021, a commerce commission investigation into New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly found the grocers were making huge profits and charging some of the highest prices in the OECD.

For those turning to Australia for cheap basics, their shopping was limited to non-perishable items – pantry staples like pastas, flour, cans and sauces, dried fruit. Both Belinda and Emma said that to actually make a saving required some deft deal-hunting, and buying $60 worth of groceries – enough to hit the free delivery threshold.

“The biggest cost is your time – it takes some time,” Belinda said. A member of Belinda’s household was severely immuno-compromised and at risk from Covid infection, so despite lifting restrictions, their home had remained in a mini-lockdown: working from home and ordering groceries online. Most New Zealand supermarkets required a higher minimum spend or regular fee for delivery, she said.

Ultimately, she’d prefer to buy local, and said she was concerned about the environmental impact of ordering groceries from overseas. “But you know,” she said, “I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do.”

*Belinda’s name has been changed at her request to protect the privacy of her household



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