Edmonton grocers warn of growing produce bills
'Everybody should be able to have access to good healthy food,' produce manager says
Edmonton grocers are in a crunch as the prices of fruits, vegetables and nuts continue to rise.
Stores in the city are posting signs to warn buyers of potential product shortages and the consequent price increases.
Identical signs have been spotted at Superstore locations across Canada. The grocery chain is owned by Loblaw Companies Ltd.
"The signs in the store were put up in an effort to be transparent to our customers about an issue that is affecting the industry," Loblaw's public relations team told CBC.
In turn, the industry will affect buyers. The average Canadian household could spend up to $345 more on food in 2016, according to a report by the Food Institute at the University of Guelph. That's after Canadians already paid about $325 more for food in 2015 than in 2014.
Grocery prices are up 4.1 per cent in the last year, increasing faster than inflation. "Fruit, nut and vegetable price inflation rates rose at a much higher rate than expected," the Food Institute study concludes.
Price spikes have been brought on by a combination of factors, according to the report. Producers have struggled with drought and climate change, much of it brought on by El Nino. A lowering Canadian dollar makes the domestic market even more vulnerable as 81 per cent of all vegetables and fruits consumed in the country are imported.
Stores in Edmonton are feeling the impact.
Wild Earth Foods is struggling with a consistent produce shortage of between 30 per cent and 40 per cent, according to a store manager.
California almonds cost about $27 per kilogram last year. In just two months the price increased to $50.95, according to the store's owner Michael Kalmanovitch.
"I feel stressed because my commitment is to provide good quality food at fair prices," Kalmanovitch said. "What we try to do is to continue to provide that while still staying in business, and while still being able to stay afloat for the better times that are eventually coming."
Jessica Laporte is the produce manager for Earth's General Store. She says fruit and vegetable prices have been climbing steadily for more than a year.
"It's uncomfortable — I feel bad, because I also want cheap produce," she said. "Everybody should be able to have access to good healthy food, and so I hate to see food (prices) increase."
Laporte says she tries to distribute the cost of especially expensive items, such as cauliflower and celery, by adding some of the difference to less expensive items. Price tags on both vegetables increased by several dollars in under a week.
"It's uncomfortable as a produce manager and also as a consumer myself," Laporte said. "I want to be able to purchase this stuff; I want it to be available for other people. I know we're not the only place feeling this crunch."
Prices aren't expected to go down any time soon. The Food Institute predicts overall cost to rise by another two per cent to four per cent in 2016. Fruits, vegetables, meats and nuts will be most affected.