Nova Scotians changing how they shop for groceries as food prices keep climbing

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Inflation may finally be starting to sow, but food prices are showing no signs of dropping. A report from Statistics Canada shows that while the annual rate of inflation slowed to seven per cent in August, grocery prices were up 10.8 per cent compared to last year. Alicia Draus looks at how people are coping with the high food prices – Sep 21, 2022

Everybody has to eat, so there’s no escaping increasing food prices.

According to Statistics Canada, August saw grocery prices increase by 10.8 per cent compared to last year. It’s the fastest increase since 1981.

“It’s a global phenomenon,” says Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University and the director of the university’s Agri-Food Analytics lab.

“There are a lot of things happening outside our borders impacting our prices here.”

Read more: Inflation slowed on lower gas prices in August, but cost of food still surging

Charlebois points to supply chains still not able to meet demand, as well as climate change impacting harvests around the world.

“In Canada we’re actually doing fine. Farmers are going to do well, but still, prices are going to go up,” he said.

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“Everything is sold in U.S. dollars on world markets so if something goes wrong around the world, we’re impacted.”

In the 1980s when food inflation topped 10 per cent, it only lasted a couple of months, but this time the high prices are sticking around longer and Canadians are taking notice. According to a recent survey completed by the Agri-Food Analytics lab, nearly three-quarters of Canadians have changed how they shop for groceries over the past year.

About a third of respondents say they read weekly flyers more often now and try to use loyalty program points to pay for groceries. Forty per cent say they’re trying to waste less food with a fifth saying they’re either buy more store brands or purchasing products on sale that are about to expire.

Read more: Young Nova Scotians facing ‘tough decisions’ as cost of living skyrockets

But as Canadians adjust their shopping habits, lower-income households are struggling the most. The survey found a quarter of people are cutting back on the amount of food they purchase with seven per cent admitting they’re skipping meals.

It’s no surprise to those who work with food banks.

“We are hearing time and time again from those who were already pushed to the brink of being unable to put food on the table who are now turning to food banks for support because they simply do not have the financial means to provide for themselves and their families,” said Karen Theriault with Feed Nova Scotia.

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In the first quarter of the year, food banks across the province saw twice as many people using their supports for the first time.

Click to play video: 'Halifax food bank offering new shopping-style model' Halifax food bank offering new shopping-style model
Halifax food bank offering new shopping-style model – Jun 9, 2022

While food banks have reported fewer people have been using their services this year overall, those who are using their supports are needing to do so more often.

“Last year, we reached an organization milestone, distributing three million kilograms of food for the first time ever,” said Theriault.

“So there’s a huge need in our community.”

Theriault says so far this year they’re on par to do the same, but providing support is getting more challenging as food banks, too, are hit hard by inflation.

“It is increasingly more expensive for us to help provide that support,” said Theriault.

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“We just looked at ordering turkeys. To buy the same amount of turkeys this year compared to last year, it’ll cost $108,000 vs last year $82,000. That’s a huge increase.”

Read more: N.S. workers ‘running in place’ as wages fail to meet cost of living: report

Over the pandemic, Feed Nova Scotia started purchasing milk and eggs to distribute to food banks across the province as these items are rarely donated. The organization plans to keep doing this but it’s now costing about half a million dollars a year.

Theriault says it’s not sustainable and that while food banks are good to help people in emergencies, they should not be the solution to food insecurity.

“We need to work towards policy-based solutions that will allow us to truly address the root causes of food insecurity,” she said.

“People are not food insecure because they don’t have enough food, they’re food insecure because they don’t have enough income to acquire the food they need.”

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