Higher grocery bills may lengthen food bank lines in 2013

Food price increases over the coming year could be the breaking point for families whose household budgets are already stretched thin.

Increased food prices over the coming year could mean more pressure on Hamilton’s food banks.

On Thursday The University of Guelph released its annual Food Price Index, which looks at food price trends and forecasts price fluctuations for the year ahead. The predictions are based on a number of combined factors, including climate, economic risks and energy costs.

According to the report, 2013 will see a hike in overall food prices of between 1.5 and 3.5 per cent.

'There are lots of people that do almost anything to find a reason not to come to the food bank, so anything that tips the scales can make it so they have no other option.'—Alan Whittle, Good Shepherd Centres

Beef and pork products are expected to see the highest increases, at 4.5 to 6.5 per cent.

"It may not seem like all that much, but considering the increases will exceed inflation, it’s a big deal," Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report, said.

For families who are already struggling to get by, the increase could be enough to tip their household budgets over the edge. And the pressure is only going to get worse, according to Charlebois.

"Lower-income families have been hit hard in recent years and that’s going to continue," he said.

Food banks in Hamilton try to stay one step ahead of the need, according to Alan Whittle, of Good Shepherd Centres, but he said increased food prices could cause a spike in need next year.

"There are lots of people that do almost anything to find a reason not to come to the food bank, so anything that tips the scales can make it so they have no other option," Whittle said.

"If we find demand is going up and we can’t meet that need, we’ll turn to the community for help."

Christmas food drives benefitting food banks in Hamilton are taking place throughout December. Drop-off locations are found across the city and some banks, like Neighbour to Neighbour Centres, will even pick up donations from your home. CBC Hamilton has also teamed up with Hamilton Food Share to help bring in donations.

Change from 2012

While 2013 may cause an increase in need, 2012 did give consumers a bit of a break, Charlebois explained. This year’s overall food prices increased by only 1 per cent — in line with the University of Guelph's previous report, which predicted the increase would be less than 2 per cent. 

How much do Hamiltonians give to charity?

CanadaHelps.org, a website that collects online donations for charities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Hamilton Burlington, tallied how much Hamiltonians donated last year through their site:

  • The total number of donations was 2,503
  • The total amount of donations was $192,467.29
  • The average amount donated was $76.89

The relatively small increase in the price of food this year was due to the cost of fruits and vegetables dropping by 8.3 per cent, Charlebois said, despite the cost of meat and eggs rising.

While the costs of beef, pork, eggs and grains will see a hike in 2013, vegetarians might be off the hook: the researchers don’t expect a significant increase in the cost of nuts, fruits and vegetables.

This could mean consumers will choose to reduce the amount of meat in their diet, Chalebois said.

"Consumers are astute buyers. If they see prices going up they will look for other alternatives," he said.

"That’s the one piece of good news: people may actually be compelled to buy healthier foods."