By Kelly Daynard
Throughout the winter, Canadian shoppers have discovered unusually high grocery store prices for fruits, vegetables and other products.
The prices come from a combination of a lower Canadian dollar and unusual weather patterns in the United States – the source of an estimated 80 per cent of produce imports into Canada. With the currency getting lower, the buying power of importers is affected and the prices are passed along to consumers. The effect is felt even more strongly at this time of the year because there aren’t many fresh foods available in Canada during winter months. According to University of Guelph’s annual Food Price Report, the cost of food rose 4.1 per cent in 2015 and will likely rise higher this coming year.
The price increases were reflected in 2016’s Food Freedom Day – which moved to February 9 this year from February 6 in 2015. Food Freedom Day, calculated by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA), is the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay his/her grocery bill for the year.
There are things that can be done to further your dollar’s reach at Canadian grocery stores. Here are some tips:
• Shop seasonally and shop locally. Products like strawberries and grapes travel thousands of miles in winter months from where they’re harvested to reach Ontario grocery stores while local Ontario root vegetables like carrots, parsnips, beets and turnip are all harvested in the fall and store well through the winter months. Ontario apples are also an economic and healthy choice in the produce aisle. Apple growers anticipate that there will be a supply of local apples available until April or May of 2016. All varieties of Ontario seedless cucumbers are grown in Ontario greenhouses and are available year round. Ontario greenhouse tomatoes and peppers will be available by April and are always among the first vegetables available in the spring months.
• Eating more local foods – including eggs, milk and other dairy products – is also a great way to support local farmers and enjoy fresh food produced close to home. Domestic products won’t have the same cost increases as imported products.
• Meat prices have also risen significantly in 2015. But it’s important to realize that not all cuts have increased by the same amount. As an example, there are options for consumers who are willing to try different cuts of beef that can be stewed, marinated or prepared in slow cookers.
• Buy only what you can consume. A study from the University of Guelph estimated that nearly 40 per cent of all food produced in Canada is wasted and that on average, Canadian households waste $28 in edible food weekly. Improved meal planning and shopping using prepared lists can both help to reduce waste.
It’s important to note though that Canadians still have among some of the lowest food costs in the world. According to the CFA, Canadians spend approximately 11 per cent of their income on food compared to citizens of other countries that can spend upwards of 20 per cent of their income or more on food.