Vegetable spending

How much we spend on vegetables

Statistics New Zealand data taken from the latest Household Economic Survey (2016) shows that the average household fresh and processed vegetable spend is $14.30 per week (6.5% of weekly food spend), up 8% ($1.10) compared to the 2012/13 survey.

The average household is 2.7 people, so this equates to $5.30 per person, per week. This survey is completed every 3 years and gains insights from 4700 households (not the same households every survey).

However, when comparing the proportion of the total weekly expenditure, the fruit and vegetable spend was 11% of the total weekly spend in both 2013 and 2016.  There has been an increase in the proportion spent on restaurant meals and ready-to-eat foods, with expenditure increasing 80% from 2007 to 2016.  Fruit and vegetable expenditure increased 45.5% from 2007 to 2016, with a 14.9% increase between 2013 and 2016.  Fruit and vegetables costs made up 1.9% of total gross expenditure in 2016.

Table: The percentage of the population eating the recommended 3 or more servings of vegetables (fresh, frozen or canned) from the latest New Zealand Adult Nutrition Survey (2009/10) results.


 Total %

 NZ European /other 













There are ethnic differences; Māori females were less likely to consume the recommended three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit per day compared to non-Māori females. The younger age group (15-30 years) are less likely to report eating 3 servings of vegetables per day and the proportion of New Zealanders eating 3+ serves per day decreases with increasing deprivation.

Why we should Veg Up our meals

Vegetables are nutrient dense, relatively low in energy (kilojoules) and are good sources of minerals and vitamins (such as magnesium, potassium, vitamin A and C and some of the B vitamins including folate), dietary fibre and a range of phytochemicals including carotenoids.

Different vegetables are rich in different nutrients e.g. starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, kumara, yams and corn are rich in carbohydrate and green leafy vegetables are rich in folate.

Therefore, to consume all the nutritional benefits of vegetables it is important to eat a wide variety. Interestingly, households have spent most on five vegetables – potatoes, tomatoes, mushrooms, lettuce and carrots – for almost 30 years (based on household expenditure data).

Data from the most recent Adult Nutrition Survey (2009/10), shows that in the New Zealand diet vegetables are the major source of vitamin C (28%), vitamin A in the form of beta carotene (44%) and potassium (13%), and second highest source of fibre, vitamin E, thiamin and B6.

To increase awareness of the nutrient content of individual vegetables, has published a poster called Nutrients in fresh New Zealand grown vegetables which shows the amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C and fibre per 100g of raw or cooked vegetables – puha, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, garlic and parsley appeared on all three lists.

Phytochemicals are naturally occurring plant compounds. There are thousands of different phytochemicals in vegetables (and in other foods e.g. fruits, tea), usually in small amounts. Plants produce them for their own protection from insects or bacteria, as pigments for photosynthesis (energy production) and flavour. They are often responsible for the bright colours in fruits and vegetables, and research is showing that these colours may protect against chronic disease.  Examples are lycopene in tomatoes and beta carotene in carrots.

Many phytochemicals have antioxidant action – they prevent damage to cells in the body. Many of the processes that lead to chronic disease are the result of oxidation to cells by substances called free radicals. If there are plenty of antioxidants to ‘mop up’ the free radicals, then body cells stay in good condition. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants, and so are many of the phytochemicals e.g. carotenoids, polyphenols and sulphides. 

Phytochemicals also work to protect against cancer, lower cholesterol, antioxidative, antithrombotic, influence on blood pressure, modulate blood glucose, fight bacteria and increase the body’s immunity.

There is no single magic phytochemical that can be isolated. The most protective effect comes from eating a wide variety of phytochemicals as they occur naturally in plant foods.

The Australian Dietary Guidelines released in 2013 showed that evidence on the link between vegetable consumption and health is increasing in strength, particularly showing  a protective effect for cardiovascular disease e.g. each additional daily serve of vegetables (75g) is associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease; that a decreased risk of stroke is associated with consumption of vegetables and strengthened evidence of the beneficial effect of the intake of non-starchy vegetables in reducing some site specific cancers.

Australians eat less than half the vegetables recommended; however, the Guidelines recommend increasing vegetable consumption and to consider the mix. The recommendations are to eat 30% more brassicas and green vegetables, 140% more red and orange vegetables and 90% more of other vegetables.

In New Zealand the Burden of Disease Report in 2003 estimated that a low vegetable and fruit intake contributed to 6% of all deaths. If 1-2 more servings of fruit or vegetables were eaten daily, this would prevent an estimated 300 deaths each year.

Tufts University, Boston in the US, uses an antioxidant power measurement oxidant radical absorbance capacity (ORAC). Vegetables with powerful ORAC are kale, spinach, Brussels sprouts, alfalfa sprouts, broccoli flowers, beetroot, red capsicums, onions, sweet corn and eggplant. Acclaimed dietitian, Catherine Saxelby, lists 20 ‘super foods’ in her book, Nutrition for Life – 6 of which are vegetables – basil, green herbs, broccoli, chillies, garlic, spinach, tomatoes.

Summary: Vegetables (and fruit) have multiple nutritional benefits however, New Zealanders need to increase their consumption of vegetables – it will save lives. has updated the ‘Nutrition’ section of the website and for each individual vegetable on the Select a vegetable pages. works with key influencers such as health professionals, teachers and food writers to assist in increasing consumption of fresh New Zealand grown vegetables and they have produced a range of resources which provide details on nutrients and phytochemicals in groups of vegetables e.g. brassicas, roots and tubers, fresh herbs etc. The resources can be viewed on the Resource section of aims for future Adult Nutrition Surveys, data from Statistics New Zealand, and other health surveys to show a worthwhile increase in consumption of vegetables.'s Pip Duncan, said “We wanted the latest scientific evidence on the website to prove how great vegetables are. We also wanted to make as many health claims as we could within legal boundaries.” Pip worked with Plant and Food’s Dr Carolyn Lister, and independent Public Health dietitian Leanne Young, on the important nutrition area.

The cost of low consumption

Vegetables and fruit have been shown to protect against heart disease, strokes and high blood pressure (World Health Organisation 2003a).

There is evidence that fresh produce protects against cancers of the mouth, larynx, pharynx, oesophagus and stomach. These studies have also cited fruit as an effective protector from lung cancer (World Cancer Research Fund and American Institute for Cancer Research 2007).

In 2003 the Ministry of Health released a report on ‘Nutrition and the Burden of Disease’, which revealed that If all New Zealanders ate 5  serves of fruit and vegetables daily, there would be ~1550 fewer deaths in the country each year. The report showed that a diet containing too little fruit and vegetables can contribute to about 6% of all deaths.