Food for thought

Recent numbers from Statistics Canada say the cost of food has gone up significantly. Kerri Breen investigates the local impact.

Have you had to do a double take at the checkout lately?

Statistics Canada says it has gotten a lot more expensive to eat in this country. Food costs are seeing the most dramatic growth in 22 years.

Food prices rose 9.5 per cent during the 12 months leading up to March, and food costs have driven a 1.2 per cent increase in the consumer price index over the last year.

Though the local economy has been partially insulated from the recession thus far, the province hasn’t been spared from expanding grocery bills. Countless everyday items—from Corn Flakes to red onions—have become almost out of reach for some consumers.

But the rising cost of stocking the cupboards is affecting more than consumers.

General manager of the province’s Community Food Sharing Association Eg Walters says that the price of food has meant a decrease in donations from businesses and the public.

“When the price of food starts to creep up, people who donate find themselves in a bit of a pinch,” he says. “We’re seeing donations right across Canada from some major national companies are down.”

Walters says 28,000 to 29,000 people use the province’s food banks each month. The Food Sharing Association collects and distributes food to over 50 food banks across Newfoundland and Labrador.
“The demand in some areas is up,” he says, noting that the closure of the mill in Grand Falls, will strain food banks in central Newfoundland.

From March 2008 to March 2009, the price of fresh vegetables rose 26.5 per cent, fresh fruit was up 19.3 per cent, and meat and bakery products increased by almost 8 per cent each.

EThe once humble potato is leading the pack—or the grocery cart—in terms of its rapidly increasing cost. Across the country, potato prices have risen 45.5 per cent in the last year.

Statistics Canada says the increase is largely due to a reduction in potato supply because of poor harvests.

Judy Bennett, public relations co-ordinator for Coleman’s supermarkets, which operates 12 supermarkets across the island, says produce prices have always fluctuated due to weather, due to seasonality, demand, and increases and decreases in fuel costs.

Last year, she says, a 10-pound bag of russet potatoes retailed at $4.49. This year they are at $5.49, an increase of about 18 per cent.

“The contributing factor was the low yields that P.E.I. received from their crop last year,” Bennett says.
Coleman’s has not experienced the kind of drastic price increases that StatsCan has reported
Bennett says the chain has remained competitive despite increasing costs by making smart buying choices, generating savings that can then be passed on to customers.

Illustration by Ricky King.