Yellowknife's two major food retailers are not taking part in a new federal food subsidy program, raising concerns in at least one remote community about higher food prices.

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Northern consumers are supposed to see lower grocery costs, especially on produce and other healthy food items, under the Nutrition North Program, which took effect on April 1. ((CBC))

Both the Yellowknife Co-Op and Extra Foods are absent from the Nutrition North Program's list of 22 retailers who offer direct shipping to customers in the North.

The federal government launched Nutrition North on April 1, replacing the old Food Mail Program's subsidy on the costs of transporting groceries to isolated northern communities.

Nutrition North subsidies instead go to retailers, which in turn will negotiate freight rates. Retailers must then pass on any savings to consumers, especially on healthy, perishable grocery items.

But officials with the Yellowknife Co-Op and Extra Foods told CBC News the paperwork required under the Nutrition North Program is just too much for them, since they would have to weigh and itemize every product they ship out for each direct and personal order.

That has some people in Norman Wells, N.W.T., a town of over 750, wondering if Nutrition North may actually cost them more money.

Insignificant savings

Norman Wells resident Phil Spencer said he used to get his fruit and vegetables shipped up from Yellowknife at subsidized and "financially feasible" costs compared to the local store.

"I went through the store a couple of times now since the [Nutrition North] program started and I've seen some very small insignificant reductions — I'm talking probably one or two per cent on a handful of items," Spencer said.

Larry Wallace, who owns the Rayuka Inn in Norman Wells, said his business depends on the ability to order in fresh groceries.

"We're dealing with Extra Foods out of Yellowknife. We will be purchasing from them because they certainly are willing to supply, except they ... aren't willing to meet these requirements," Wallace said.

"They can supply us but you'd be just on a regular freight rate thing, which would probably quadruple the cost of the freight."

Wallace said he is now looking at other food shipping options and closely watching food prices in his community.