January 28, 2016 11:12 am
Updated: January 28, 2016 5:07 pm

Forget cauliflower: celery leads pack of runaway produce prices

Celery is leading a surge in food costs that’s touching a nerve with Canadians across the country. “It appears vegetable prices have become the symbol of how the lower loonie is affecting the average Canadian."

Andy Cross/via Getty Images

Price inflation for fruits and vegetables is getting so bad even fruit-flavoured beverage “crystals” are blowing up in price – up 10.4 per cent last month compared to a year ago.

Indeed, public attention has suddenly — and deservedly — turned toward the explosive growth in produce prices as the loonie plays havoc with the cost of imported goods.

While attention has been fixed on $8 heads of cauliflower (which have since receded to a tamer $4.99 or less at stores), there’s plenty of other fruits and vegetables posting sizable jumps, chief among them, celery.

More salads may be suffering from a lack of crunch, with celery prices surging a giant 46.3 per cent in December, according to Statistics Canada. Produce in general is up 13.3 per cent compared to a year ago.

Here are some notable examples:

Click here to view data »

MORE: Discount supermarkets seeing more traffic 

While rising food prices are a concern, the mania gripping the collective psyche of the country over the cost of cauliflower at the moment is tied to a deeper anxiety about the fate of the dollar, experts say.

“It appears that vegetable prices have become the symbol of how the lower loonie is affecting the average Canadian,” BMO’s Doug Porter said.

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Millennial impact

Younger adults who’ve largely grown up during a long period when the dollar hovered around parity with the U.S. dollar may be feeling a little more uncertain about what life will be like with a lower currency, said Juliann Ng, vice-president at market researcher GfK Canada.

“Many of us can probably remember a 65-cent dollar and go back to old habits. But there’s a whole generation of Canadians now entering the workforce, getting married, buying cars and houses and they grew up seeing the Canadian dollar at par,” Ng said.

“They never really had to worry… it was always one for one. When you think about that, it’s going to be pretty dramatic for them.”

The good news? While the dollar could remain at current levels for some time, the price spikes will level off, experts say. Prices will also reflect forces beyond the currency – like good old supply and demand. At the supermarket, red meat is an example.

With rising supplies of both beef and pork after shortages in 2014 and 2015, consumers are beginning to see some red meat prices flatten or even come down. Pork chops were up a meagre 0.5 per cent last month.

Non-meat eaters can take a degree of relief in that banana prices have barely budged in price in the past year, as well.

© 2016 Shaw Media

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