The average price of butter is up more than 17 per cent in Canada since last December. Fresh vegetables have seen an increase of nearly 10 per cent. And eggs are up 15 per cent. Overall, Canadians paid about 10 per cent more at the grocery store in July than at the beginning of the year, according to data from Statistics Canada.
Simon Somogyi, a business of food professor at the University of Guelph, has been studying these figures closely, and calls this inflation a “perfect storm” of supply issues. “You’re looking at butter that cost you $5, and now it’s $7. That’s a big impact,” he says.
That impact is being felt across the country and Canadians are having to find ways to cope with high grocery bills. Montreal couple Sarah Nahle and Hicham Deaibes have moved to online shopping to stifle last-minute cart additions or impulse buys.
“We come to the store with a list, but you always purchase more,” Deaibes says. “If we’re ordering our groceries, we’re only buying what we need.” Nahle agrees, adding that it’s easier to stick to a budget when shopping online because “we can remove items [from the virtual cart] when it’s over our budget.” For the parents of two young daughters, shopping online also eliminates requests for the cereal with cartoon mascots, or the candy at the checkout line.
Deaibes does most of the cooking, and says he’s started planning the family’s meals based on what’s promoted in the grocery flyer. “I also batch cook most of the time, so I try to get a recipe that we can eat for two days at a minimum.”
Nahle and Deaibes know they’re not the only ones adjusting their cooking and shopping habits to the new realities of higher prices. On Nahle’s Instagram account, the pair made a video comparing the paltry amount of food they can purchase for $100, versus the plethora they could get for the same amount just a few years ago. Unsurprisingly, the video went viral, racking up millions of views across the world. They heard from others across the globe who are facing the same predicament. From the comments, they’ve learned their new followers are cutting back on meat consumption, or not shopping organic, as everyone seems to be in the same boat.
While the high prices are shocking for many, Debbie Beard isn’t at all surprised that people are scrambling for tips to help them cope. The 66-year-old has lived in the Orillia, Ont., area her whole life, and says she’s never seen food prices jump like this. “It used to be that if you were struggling in any area, you could cut back with your food bill a bit. But it’s tough now.” Beard’s own grocery budget has jumped by nearly half; where she used to spend $100 on a week’s food for herself and her husband, the bill now comes to $150.
But Beard is used to shopping on a budget. She’s spent years cooking and catering for large groups, and even now volunteers with a compassionate kitchen through her church. That caring instinct extends to sharing her knowledge. Beard joined a Facebook group dedicated to frugal shopping, answering questions that pop up from shoppers looking for advice.
The first thing she tells people: stockpile the basics at the best prices. “If the average person spends $100 a week on their groceries, if they took $10 or $15 of that, they could use that for stocking-up purposes.” Beard says to shop the sales and grab pantry staples. “[If you see] chicken noodle soup on sale for 50 cents, don’t buy two. Buy 12. Now you have enough soup for three or six months.”
According to the data, Canadians are also saving cash by changing where they shop. People have moved away from premium grocery stores, says Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. “Food sales at dollar stores are up 18 per cent since April,” Charlebois says. And it makes sense. Charlebois’s own research showed savings of “anywhere between 30 and 50 per cent, depending on the week,” by purchasing the same products at dollar stores.
If you can’t go to a different store for your groceries, Charlebois says simply changing the day of the week you do your shopping can add up to savings. “The big delivery days for groceries are typically Tuesdays and Thursdays,” he says. So, instead of doing your weekly shop on Saturday, try to do it on Monday, when the stores are getting rid of items to make room for new stock.
Even some of the biggest pantry staples, like all-purpose flour, have jumped in price lately. With flour, the war in Ukraine plays a part, as Ukraine and Russia are big producers of global wheat supplies. The cost of fertilizer has also risen, making it more difficult for farmers to break even, and led to rise in the price of staple grains and produce.
However, the good news is that prices are stabilizing. Charlebois says prices in most grocery sectors are declining, with a few exceptions such as dairy products. The bad news – those dairy prices will likely keep going up. “We’re expecting another increase [in dairy] as kids go back to school in September, an additional 2.5 per cent,” Charlebois warns. “It’s not going to end.”