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Food prices fall in March on cheaper cakes and candy

New Zealand food prices fell in March as cheaper cakes and candy drove a fall in grocery prices, and offset more expensive meat and produce.

The food price index fell 0.3 percent in March following a 1 percent fall in February, according to Statistics New Zealand. Food prices rose 1.2 percent on an annual basis, the first time all five components of the index increased since September 2011.

The monthly decline was led by a 1.6 percent drop in grocery prices to their lowest level since August as cakes and biscuit prices and confectionary, nuts and snacks both dropped 3.5 percent. In the year grocery prices made the smallest gains of all the subgroups, up 0.2 percent, led by an 8.8 percent gain in fresh milk and a 7.1 percent rise in cheese prices.

Last month the Reserve Bank embarked on a tightening cycle, lifting interest rates 25 basis points to 2.75 percent as it tries to stem inflationary pressure in the economy. Food prices make up almost 19 percent of the consumer price index, the inflation measure used by the central bank. First-quarter CPI is due for release next week.

"Despite food price inflation remaining subdued, inflation indicators point to a pick-up in other inflation areas," Christina Leung, economist at ASB Bank, said in a note. "Overall, the result is in line with our expectations, and we expect the first quarter CPI released next Wednesday will show a 0.6 percent increase."

Today's figures showed meat, poultry and fish prices rose 0.9 percent in March, the biggest increase across the subgroups. Meat, poultry and fish prices rose 1.6 percent, with mutton, lamb and hogget prices up 15 percent in the year.

Restaurant meals and ready-to-eat food prices rose 0.4 percent in March, and were up 1.9 percent in the year, driving the annual gain.

Prices of non-alcoholic beverages increased 0.2 percent in the month for annual increase of 2.7 percent. Non-alcoholic beverages led the annual increase, with packaged coffee and tea prices climbing 5.3 percent.

Fruit and vegetable prices rose 0.5 percent in March, with cheaper apples and kumara. On an annual produce prices rose 1.5 percent with more expensive tomatoes, oranges and mandarins.

(BusinessDesk)