Shuswap consumers might be experiencing sticker shock when it comes to filling up their grocery carts.
Prices of produce and beef are exceptionally high at the moment, due to a combination of factors, primarily poor weather, the low Canadian dollar and the high cost of shipping.
“You are out on the floor and you are hearing and seeing the customers staring at the prices and they are traumatized,” says Salmon Arm Askew’s uptown produce manager Mike Medwid. “They really just can’t understand it.”
Prices of items like cauliflower, celery, broccoli, leafy salad greens, green onions and herbs like cilantro and parsley are among the highest grocery stores have seen.
“These growers plan months in advance to schedule their crops, but you can’t count on Mother Nature,” says Medwid, who notes drought conditions, followed by El Nino-influenced heavy rains have resulted in widespread flooding of fields.
“People have come to expect these types of produce on the shelves year-round, so there is demand for it, and when you can’t produce enough to meet the demand, prices go up.”
Medwid suggests consumers be cautious with their spending and only buy smaller amount of produce that they are sure they will use before it spoils.
“Now is not the time to stockpile,” he says.
Brad DeMille, at DeMille’s Farm Market, says prices have been shocking, even to those in the know.
“I’ve been looking at the price lists and going, ‘holy jeez,’” he says.
At Christmas time, DeMille’s was selling free range turkeys for $3.69 a pound while brussels sprouts were going for $5.99 a pound.
“I couldn’t believe sprouts were more than your turkey, but people were buying them. There was not a brussels sprout to be found in this town just before Christmas.”
The low Canadian dollar is also a huge factor, as the lion’s share of produce sold in local grocery stores is coming from California, Arizona and Florida.
“When your dollar is worth 30 cents less than it used to be, that has a real impact on your buying power,” says Medwid.
The high prices impact consumers at the till, but programs like the Good Food Box are also feeling the pinch. The Good Food Box is a volunteer-run, co-operative produce program which uses bulk buying in an effort to keep costs down – which is especially useful for low-income users.
Joyce Henderson, who helps run the program, says they are reluctant to increase the price from the current $12, because this can make the program out of reach to many, so the consequence of higher prices means less food in each box.
“DeMille’s and Pedro’s give us very good deals, and we look around locally at prices, but higher prices makes it harder to squeeze the budget,” says Henderson.
To try and keep the boxes as full as possible, Henderson says they are focusing on in-season items – apples, potatoes, carrots, onions. While sometimes the boxes can include more exotic items, like peppers or cauliflower, high costs mean the focus will be on the cheaper staples.
But DeMille says customers should be seeing some relief, although prices will still remain higher than average.
“We are starting to see prices coming down, even as early as this week. It was $88 for 25 pounds of cauliflower the last few weeks, but that price is going closer to $30 for 25 pounds. But customers should be prepared that prices are not going to drop back to where they once were.”
Tips for keeping your costs down
Serena Caner, a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital, has these tips for trying to keep including produce in your sight while keeping costs down.
• Check flyers – buy what is on sale and avoid the highest priced items;
• Frozen vegetables have similar nutrition and are often cheaper;
• Many grocery stores have “quick sale” veggies on for 50 per cent off;
• Process your own veggies in the summer (canning, freezing), when prices are down (or you are growing your own);
• This time of the year, the cheapest veggies are cabbage, carrots and onions. Get creative with different styles of coleslaw (with Asian vinaigrette, toasted sunflower seeds);
• Buy bulk – some stores sell large quantities for a cheaper price (10-25 lb. bags of carrots, onions, potatoes).
If you can’t eat that much before it goes bad, split it with a friend.
Caner also says it is ok to eat somewhat seasonally, where we eat fewer fruits and veggies in the winter and load up in the summer.
“I am pretty sure people have always eaten that way, as it has only been recently that we can get such a large variety of fresh produce all year long.”