A Queensland shopper this week spotted iceberg lettuce selling at a supermarket for $11.99. The photo quickly went viral as evidence of the cost-of-living pressures Australians are facing.
Iceberg lettuce previously cost about $2.80 each, making it somewhat of an infamous star of inflation. So what has caused the price of the humble vegetable and other fresh produce to rise so sharply, and how long will the high prices last?
Which vegetables are going up?
It’s not just iceberg lettuce, as few products escape the effects of steep inflation. The latest consumer price index figures show a 12.7% year-on-year increase in the cost of vegetables.
In the last six months, a comparative shop shows a kilo of sweet potatoes jumped from $1.88 to $4.24. The cost of continental cucumbers more than doubled – going from $1.50 each to $3.50 each.
A comparison of prices from one shop done last August show similar jumps. A bag of brown onions went from $2.00 a kilo to $2.90; a bunch of celery went from $3.00 to $4.50, and four zucchinis went from $2.94 to $4.68.
Back in 2018, broccoli was $3.90 a kg, but is now $9.90.
In Sydney, a recent photo of capsicums at Harris Farm retailing for $18.99 a kilo went viral; in Melbourne, a Kent pumpkin will set you back $15.60, while a watermelon – out of season though from Australia – costs $25.52.
Almost everything is going up, from truss tomatoes to zucchinis. Michael Harvey, a senior analyst at Rabobank, said Australians had seen the highest price growth in 10 years.
“Clearly the numbers [from the March quarter] are the highest they’ve been in 10 years when you measure it quarterly,” he said. “They hadn’t been that high since 2011, when there was a cyclone that had a huge impact on bananas.”
“When you look under the hood it is broad-based: vegetables, beef, meat and dairy – seafood [too], but vegetables are significant.”
What’s causing the increase?
There are multiple issues causing the price hike but the main drivers are floods, war and the pandemic.
Tyson Cattle, a spokesperson for AusVeg, said the recent floods which ruined crops in northern NSW and Queensland are a major factor. He said the damage in the Lockyer valley had a particularly big impact.
“The Lockyer valley has been heavily hit by recent weather events. That’s leading to a sharp price increase, particularly for fresh vegetables,” Cattle said.
“Lockyer is a significant growing region for all fresh vegetables. You could throw a dart at a board [covered in vegetables] and chances are it will hit one grown there.
At this time of year, the rest of the country eats vegetables coming from there, he said.
“That’s why we talk region-specific, rather than commodity-specific. You’ve got a heavier growing region at a really critical time and they’re hammered by rain events and floods.