Manitoba

Low-income Manitobans feeling inflation pinch at the grocery store

A rise in grocery store prices is taking a toll on low-income households who now find themselves making tough choices as they struggle to put food on the table.

Inuit Association trying to fill the gap by providing grocery rebate, caribou, char

Sharice Sinclair at the grocery store in Churchill, Man. where toilet paper costs over $25, and a block of marble cheese costs $23. (Sharice Sinclair/Submitted)

Fresh fruit, vegetables and meat are a luxury that is becoming more out of reach for Sharice Sinclair.

Sinclair, a resident of Churchill, Man., a remote town located about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, says she can't afford the rising cost of groceries with her monthly take-home income of $600 to $800.

"The rising cost in this town is ridiculous," said Sinclair, who works at a library part-time.

"You know, I lived in Winnipeg for two, two and a half years and I never had financial issues like I do here. You can go to Safeway, or Superstore or wherever or Walmart, and you can walk out with six to eight bags, $100 worth of stuff. But here in Churchill, you're lucky to walk out with a bag, bag and a half."

In September, Statistics Canada said the overall cost of living in Manitoba had gone up by 4.4 per cent, according to the consumer price index when compared to a year prior. Food prices in the province overall went up by 1.8 per cent but research from Dalhousie University's Agri-Food Analytics Lab suggests that prices are even higher.

And in the north, groceries cost even more than they do in the rest of Canada.

Sinclair said a small bag of cherries starting to get mouldy will cost $20 while a half rack of ribs may set her back $40. The rising cost of goods has left her turning to cheaper frozen foods and high-sugar alternatives that have taken a toll on her dental health.

Delilah Boehm, right, with her mother during a recent trip to Food Fare. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

"The dentist is like, 'you should try and introduce some fruit and veggies' and giving me this list. And I'm just looking at it and I'm like this costs about $500 here, buddy, are you planning to pay out of your own pocket? Because there's no way I can afford it."

Ikayuktiit Incorporated is working to fill the gap by providing grocery rebates, hampers, fresh caribou, char and muktuk to about 400 Inuit across Manitoba.

"People are so excited and so grateful to get it because it's so hard to get that sort of food up here. A lot of people like to share it," said Janet Kanayok, program manager at Ikayuqtiit, the charity created by the Manitoba Inuit Association to improve health, education and employment outcomes for Inuit in the province.

In Churchill, Ikayuktiit Incorporated is giving a $350 monthly grocery rebate to Inuit in the town who face food insecurity.

Food bank users changing buying habits

The rebate has been a lifeline for Sinclair, who's been laid off from her job at various times during the pandemic. It means she can buy what she calls luxuries like toilet paper and sometimes meat when it's on sale in the town.

In Winnipeg, even a slight increase in groceries is a big deal to Delilah Boehm, 54.

Meat for sale at Food Fare in Winnipeg on Portage Avenue. Meat is one of the foods that has risen in cost in recent months. (Jaison Empson/CBC)

She lives on social assistance, which is not adjusted to inflation. She's keeping a close eye on grocery prices, especially in the meat aisle.

"Makes me want to have to tighten up a little more and wait a little longer to get certain other things like chicken and the meat part. I wait till near the end of the month to try and make it last longer."

Boehm volunteers for a food bank and is able to bring home some fresh produce in exchange for her time, which she says helps her get to her next pay day.

Harvest Manitoba CEO Vince Barletta said inflation is making stories like Boehm's more common. He said when rent or other bills go up, low-income Manitobans are forced to take money out of their grocery budget.

"What often ends up happening is that individuals aren't able to put that nutritious, wholesome food on the table for themselves and their families. And so that's that's one of the terrible choices that poverty creates for tens of thousands of Manitobans," he said.

Harvest Manitoba said 90 per cent of people who used a Harvest food bank attributed rising food prices with changing the way they shopped during the last quarter of 2020, which was well before the recent spike in groceries.

"The meats and the eggs and the milk and the fruit are the first ones to go and that's unfortunate for kids growing up who are going to be missing out on a healthy diet," said Barletta.

He added Manitoba Harvest is gearing up for a busy Christmas season with demand for food banks increasing as food prices continue to rise. 

Low income Manitobans dealing with escalating cost of groceries

1 year ago
Duration 2:39
A rise in grocery store prices is taking a toll on low-income Manitobans who now find themselves making tough choices as they struggle to put food on the table.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

​Austin Grabish is a reporter for CBC News in Winnipeg. Since joining CBC in 2016, he's covered several major stories. Some of his career highlights have been documenting the plight of asylum seekers leaving America in the dead of winter for Canada and the 2019 manhunt for two teenage murder suspects. In 2021, he won an RTDNA Canada award for his investigative reporting on the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, which triggered change. Have a story idea? Email: austin.grabish@cbc.ca

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