Story: Food shops

Page 3. Greengrocers, fruiterers and delicatessens

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Greengrocers and fruiterers

Early produce

Greengrocers and fruiterers sold vegetables and fruit. Vegetables on sale in the 1850s (in northern New Zealand) included cabbages, potatoes, kūmara (sweet potato), pumpkin, maize and carrots. Fruit included pears, apples, grapes, plums, peaches, melons and quinces. By the early 1850s bananas, oranges, coconuts and pineapples from Samoa were for sale in Auckland.

Chinese greengrocers

From the late 1800s Chinese gold miners working in Otago and the West Coast moved into market gardening in different parts of the country. Some opened shops as outlets for produce from their, or their relatives’, market gardens.

European greengrocers struggled to compete with Chinese, who worked harder and longer hours. In 1896 one household decided to buy its produce from a ‘proper’ (European) greengrocer – at three times the price – only to find out that Chinese supplied the European greengrocer. The children of Chinese shop owners helped out in the shop, but their families also encouraged them to get an education.

Fruit and vegetable retailing

Many people grew their own vegetables and used greengrocers and fruiterers to supplement what their garden provided.

Greengrocers and confectioners were generally open for longer hours than grocers shops, and were exempt from legislation passed in 1892 that forced other shop owners to close for a half-day each week.

Greengrocers were self-employed and bought their produce at morning auctions.

A 1923 display of apples in a Whanganui fruit shop showed a huge range of apple cultivars on sale. In the 2000s fruit shops and supermarkets seldom stock more than three or four apple varieties at a time.

Greengrocers and fruit and vegetable shops were much less common by the 2000s – supermarkets increasingly stole their customers from the 1970s. Those that survived were often specialists selling Asian vegetables and wider ranges than those stocked by supermarkets, or they catered to vegetarians and buyers of organic produce.


Delicatessens were uncommon in New Zealand towns, and tended to only be found in downtown areas or parts of cities that had a European immigrant base. Many were run by immigrants. German immigrant Carl Vogtherr opened a delicatessen in Hastings in 1914. In Wellington Greeks operated a handful of delicatessens or ‘pork-butchers’ as they were known in the 1920s. These delis sold a wider range of cured meats and luxury foods than butchers. One was open in Cuba St from 1935 to at least 1966 and another opened in Manners St in 1971.

In 1956 Dutch immigrant Aalt Verkerk opened Verkerks Deli in Christchurch on the corner of Manchester and Armagh streets. The deli still operated in the 2000s, but the company had grown to be a major producer of cured meats, supplying many supermarkets and other food stores.

From the 1970s delicatessens became more common, especially in wealthier areas, as New Zealanders developed more complex food tastes. By the 1980s many large supermarkets had delis alongside their meat sections.

How to cite this page:

Carl Walrond, 'Food shops - Greengrocers, fruiterers and delicatessens', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 18 July 2024)

Story by Carl Walrond, published 11 Mar 2010, updated 1 Sep 2016