Food inflation prompting consumers to change habits

The rising cost of food hasn't gone unnoticed by grocery shoppers. As Sean O'Shea reports, food inflation is a reason why some are changing their shopping and cooking habits.

TORONTO — With food prices climbing higher, consumers like Susan Lindell – who is on a fixed-income – are seeing sticker shock on their grocery bills.

“Whatever I used to spend at the grocery store, I need $20 or $30 more,” said Lindell, shopping with her granddaughters in Kensington Market.

Zoe Mohler, 7, and her sister, Callie, are each clutching a $10 bill given by their mother, on a quest to see what they can buy according to their budgets.

“I’m going to buy two kinds of cheese,” said Zoe, who said she was hoping to buy a third item as well.

“It’s expensive!” exclaimed her older sister, Callie.

That sentiment echoes the views of consumers who are coping with higher prices in stores.

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The August Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed the price of many grocery items up substantially over the last year, including: fresh meat up 6.3 per cent, frozen meat up 12.1 per cent, fresh fruit up 6.7 per cent and fresh vegetables up 7.7 per cent.

“I think you have to learn cooking techniques that allow you to use up that food as efficiently as possible rather than throwing it away,” said Vicky Sanderson, a Toronto-based home product specialist.

Sanderson says consumers can cut grocery costs with better planning: from shopping for food when it’s on sale, to making meals at the beginning of the week and freezing portions and not wasting anything.

“After you’ve cooked the chicken breasts, remove the bones from it and use it to make a chicken stock. Save the scraps from your vegetables, make a vegetable stock. Save the scraps from your fresh herbs, add that to the vegetable stock.”

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Sanderson agrees that smart shoppers can take advantage of coupons, but advises against buying food and products you don’t usually use. She also agrees that it’s wise to take advantage of price-match policies at stores.

The rising price of meat has influenced the buying habits of shoppers who are switching away from traditional protein dishes.

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“I don’t buy that much protein at all anymore, I stay away from red meat,” said Chantal Laroque, another Kensington Market shopper.

Sanderson agrees that budget-conscious consumers should opt for other sources of protein.

“Beans, nuts all those kind of things make great alternatives. They can be very tasty, very easy to prepare and you’re saving money with them,” she said.