New Zealand’s March food prices rose 1.2 percent versus the same month a year earlier, pushed higher by grocery foods, non-alcoholic beverages and restaurant and ready-to-eat food.

Meat, poultry and fish prices rose 0.9 percent on the year while restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food prices lifted 2.9 percent, Statistics NZ said. Grocery food prices lifted 1.4 percent and non-alcoholic beverages were up 2.1 percent.

Fruit and vegetable prices, however, fell 2.6 percent. 

The 1.2 percent annual rise followed a 1.7 percent annual rise in February, which was the highest since April 2018 when food prices rose 2.3 percent on the year. 

Food prices lifted 0.5 percent in March from February but were flat after seasonal adjustment. The monthly rise was largely due to a 3.7 percent lift in fruit and vegetable prices. According to Stats NZ, avocado prices more than doubled in March compared with February 2019.

“Avocado prices usually rise early in the year, and reach their highest levels around June,” consumer prices manager Gael Price said. “However, this March’s increase was much bigger than usual. Avocado prices were $4.29 per 200g avocado, up from $3.12 per 200g in March 2018.”

Tomatoes cost an average of $5.20 a kilo in March 2019, 44 percent higher than in February 2019. 

The food price index accounts for about a fifth of the consumers price index, which the Reserve Bank uses to pursue its inflation target when setting interest rates.

The central bank kept rates on hold at 1.75 percent at the most recent meeting and surprised markets when it changed its language to say the next move was likely to be a rate cut. Next Wednesday’s CPI data for the March quarter will be closely watched for any further direction.

The central bank has a mandate to keep inflation in a 1 percent to 3 percent range over the medium term with a focus on the mid-point. December quarter annual inflation was 1.9 percent. 

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