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NZ continues to produce and import food, so there’s no need to panic buy

New Zealanders have overrun supermarkets across the country over the last week, with the COVID-19 pandemic inviting panic buying and fear over access to the basics. However, our high-level analysis shows that food production and food imports remain resilient.

Domestic production remains in operation to feed New Zealand

The government has made clear that feeding the nation remains a critical task, with primary industries, including food and beverage production and processing, being essential businesses at all levels of the COVID-19 alert system. Over the year to March 2019, Infometrics estimates show there were nearly 217,500 workers in food and beverage production and manufacturing industries, equating to around 8.6% of the total workforce. That’s 217,500 workers that will still be toiling away to put food on our table.

The Waikato and Canterbury regions are New Zealand’s food powerhouses, with both containing around 14% each of the country’s food-related workers (see Chart 1).

NZ food imports are limited, but continue to arrive

Fears over New Zealanders’ ability to access food at supermarkets has also been exacerbated by concerns about how the global economy is performing, with similar lockdowns occurring across other parts of the world.

However, our high-level analysis shows that New Zealand imported only around 20% of our food needs over the December 2019 year, based on import data and retail spending insights. This level of food importing has been largely stable over time, averaging 18% since 1996 (see Chart 2).

Just as importantly, preliminary trade data from StatsNZ shows that total imports (not just food imports) into New Zealand have only dropped slightly in recent weeks. Over the period between 1 February and 10 March 2020, imports to New Zealand fell 5.2% compared to last year, but they were still 2.4% above comparative imports in 2018.

As part of their data release data, StatsNZ provided insights on New Zealand’s imports from China and Australia. This preliminary data shows that the decline in imports was driven by a 19% drop in total imports from China. However, detailed trade data shows that New Zealand usually imports only about 5% of our total food imports from China (representing about 1% of our total food spend). Imports from Australia showed an 8.1% drop. Australia usually provides around 31% of total food imports (representing about 6% of our total food spend).

Panic buying does no one any favours – cut it out

Taken together, all these datasets show that New Zealand imports less than 20% of our food needs, with over 80% sourced from home. And of the 20% that is imported, total imports don’t provide any cause for concern when it comes to getting food in New Zealand stores.

Panic buying only serves to stoke fear and risks leaving those most in need without the essentials. New Zealand workers – over 200,000 of them – continue to operate to feed the country. Give them the chance, and New Zealand will be just fine.

So calm down, and cut out this panic buying.

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