Nunavut food prices soar amid U.S. drought, plunging loonie

People in Canada's North are used to paying more for food, but the somewhat-delayed effect of the national price hike has some Nunavut consumers swapping stories of $28 bags of grapes, $10 pints of berries and $10 iceberg lettuce.

Northerners shocked by $28 grapes, $13 cauliflower, amid national price hike

The price of cauliflower in Ottawa made international headlines this winter, when prices hit $8 per head. After a slight delay, the price hike has hit Nunavut, with one Iqaluit store pricing the vegetable at more than $13. (Elyse Skura/CBC)

People in Canada's North are used to paying more for food, but the somewhat-delayed effect of the national price hike has some Nunavut consumers swapping stories of $28 bags of grapes, $10 pints of berries and $10 iceberg lettuce. 

More than a month after Ottawa consumers decried the $8-a-head cauliflower crisis, grocery stores in Nunavut are feeling the full effect of a plunging loonie and adverse weather conditions in California. 

In the capital city of Iqaluit, a head of cauliflower can fetch more than $13. 
Meena Hoyt in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, posted this photo to the Facebook group Feeding my Family. A Canada-wide hike in produce prices has hit Nunavut. (Meena Hoyt/Facebook)

"The price of strawberries during the holidays, who could buy any?" said Marc Dubeau, the manager of Baffin Canners, a small Iqaluit grocery store.

"It's too expensive or there were none on the market. Stuff like this lately ... it's crazy. The price goes up, like, it's unbelievable."

Dubeau said his customers don't usually complain, but they've certainly noticed the change — and more than ever, they're voting with their dollars.

"The beef's probably been the worst thing that's been going up," he explained. "People buy more chicken and more fish."

Reliance on American produce

Mike von Massow, who researches consumer demand for food at the University of Guelph, said the North is seeing the same price hike consumers across Canada are experiencing, but with "a bit of a delay."

"We've seen cauliflower come down from the extreme highs," he said. "Now, bell peppers and asparagus and celery are going through the roof, because they were subject to these sort of micro climate issues in California." 

During the winter months, about 90 per cent of produce sold in Canada comes from the southern United States, von Massow said. 

Duane Wilson, a spokesman for Arctic Cooperatives, says the plunging Canadian dollar is to blame for the price hike. (CBC)

When the supply of produce was weakened by drought and frost, prices increased in American dollars. 

"The big change, the rapid deflation in the Canadian dollar, in essence, makes the purchase price in Canadian dollars, much, much higher," said Arctic Cooperatives spokesman Duane Wilson.

'Sometimes I go without'

For Iqaluit shoppers, the high cost of produce is noticeable but likely won't change their shopping habits. 

"I've been here in the North 36 years, when you need things you buy them," said Sue Coogan. "That's the price of being here."

Other shoppers said the high cost of food is getting to "terrible" levels and is making feeding a family on a small budget nearly impossible. 

"I go without," said Iqaluit resident Kanayok Kootoo. "Sometimes I go without."