N.B. food prices remain high, but beginning to stabilize: expert

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N.B. food prices remain high but beginning to stabilise says expert
WATCH: Canada’s inflation rate has risen to eight per cent since June of last year. That increase is mostly driven by fuel prices, but the price of food has been a large factor as well – meaning some are making hard choices in the supermarket. Silas Brown reports – Jul 21, 2022

Food prices in New Brunswick are almost 10 per cent higher than they were this time last year, according to newly released consumer price index numbers.

Canada’s overall inflation rate was 8.1 per cent in June, driven in large part by the high cost of food and fuel. Nationally, food prices have gone up by 8.8 per cent since June of last year and in New Brunswick, the cost of groceries has risen 9.2 per cent.

According to food policy expert Sylvain Charlebois, the nature of food supply in the Maritimes means that the region is often more susceptible to price shocks than other parts of the country.

“Since the Atlantic is such a challenging market to service when it comes to food distribution, any shock in the system, you’ll actually see a greater change in the Atlantic,” said Charlebois, the director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

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That’s in part due to the transportation costs associated with moving food around the region and the lack of processing infrastructure, he says.

Confronted with growing grocery bills, some New Brunswickers have had to make choices at the supermarket.

“We went from not really having to worry about our grocery bill to have to process it and think it through and strategically plan which groceries we’re getting each week,” said Fredericton mother Jessica Hay.

“The cost of food — the cost of everything, really — we’ve had to arrange our budget to be a little more strategic.”

For others, that means shifting their diet.

“I guess I’ve noticed over the last couple of months that it has gone up, so less meat we’ve been buying,” said Jokodaa Johnson.

Or shifting where they’re getting their food from.

“Try to shop local, support our own farmers and see what we can do,” said Clint Walper, a recently retired paramedic.

Rising food prices don’t just affect grocery bills; restaurant cheques are going up too.

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Mike Babineau owns five restaurants around Fredericton, including Rustico. He says food costs have risen quite a bit over the last year, which does end up making plates more expensive.

“Ultimately, the customer is going to be paying a little bit more,” he said.

“We’ve seen dramatic increases, just the cost of the oil we use in the deep fryers, that’s going to cost our company $50,000 this year, just in that one item.”

Babineau says his company has tried to avoid passing all of that on to customers and has looked for other ways to reduce costs, but he has had to adjust menu prices.

“Everybody knows there’s increases and restaurants are no different. I think people kind of have to accept that this is the way it’s going to be for a little while,” he said.

“Hopefully things will level out next year and we can hold our pricing for a year. We’re committed to do the best thing we can for our customers.”

The increased cost of eating out has led some, like Swahdhishtan Swaminathan, to try and eat out less.

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“I try to restrict as much as possible. I keep it, like, once or twice a month. I try to make my food as much as possible, but even then the groceries, they are also going up,” he said.

But according to Charlebois, there is some good news. Prices month to month are beginning to stabilize, and while that means the price of food isn’t going to go down, it may go back to rising at a more normal level.

“Higher commodity prices have worked their way through the supply chain now, commodity prices are actually lower since April, so that’s less pressure on food companies,” he said.

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