Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Eating healthy costing more

Vegetable, fruit prices skyrocket

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Fresh vegetables are good for your health, but they're hard on your wallet these days.

Fruit and vegetable wholesalers said Friday prices of some popular vegetables such as lettuce, cauliflower and broccoli are double or triple what they were a year ago. They blamed the price hikes on a variety of factors, including a weaker Canadian dollar and bad weather this year in parts of California, which reduced the size of that's state's vegetable crops.

"It's a combination of many things (that drives up vegetable prices)," Guy Allard, produce purchaser for Garden Grove Distributors (1998) Ltd., said in an interview. "But supply and demand is the major (contributor)."

A weaker Canadian dollar and higher fuel prices have added to the pain, said Matt Bates, vice-president of operations for Burnaby, B.C.-based Star Produce Ltd., which has a distribution centre in Winnipeg.

"Higher transportation costs are definitely a big part of it," he said.

Bates said while the Canadian dollar is down only a few cents from a year ago, Canadian distributors have to pay for all U.S.-grown vegetables in U.S. dollars, so it all adds up.

He and Allard were commenting after Statistics Canada released the September inflation numbers for Manitoba and the rest of Canada. They showed that while Manitoba's annual inflation rate dipped in September, falling to 2.5 per cent from 2.7 per cent in August and 3.0 per cent in July, it's still the highest in the country, more than double the national rate of 1.1 per cent.

The numbers show one of the major contributors to the high inflation rate here was a 23.5 per cent increase in the past year in the overall cost of fresh vegetables.

Allard said lettuce lovers have been particularly hard-hit, with the price of California-grown lettuce triple what it was a year ago.

Broccoli and cauliflower prices are double what they were, and potatoes are up 20 to 25 per cent, he said. Bates referred to the cost of imported asparagus, which is up 50 to 60 per cent from a year ago.

He and Allard said they expect prices to remain high until at least late November, when Texas-grown vegetables hit the market and supplies improve.

Bates said fruit prices could also spike this winter due to a recent frost in Chile that damaged produce such as grapes, blueberries, cherries, peaches and plums.

He said Canadian wholesalers usually start importing more fruit from South America after Christmas, when supplies of California-grown fruit tend to run low.

"So prices for those will likely go up, too," he said, although it's too soon to say how much the price might climb.

Manitoba's high inflation rate in September continues a trend that has seen it at or near the top of the inflation list for much of 2013. One contributing factor has been a series of tax increases and fee hikes imposed in the last two provincial budgets.

They included a $35 increase in passengervehicle registration fees, a rise in tobacco taxes, a one-percentage-point hike in the provincial sales tax and an extension of the PST to include previously exempt items such as home and mortgage insurance.

Examples of other consumer items that have increased in price in the past year are cigarettes (up 10.3 per cent), property taxes (up 5.2 per cent) and homeowners' replacement costs (up 4.8 per cent), the Statistics Canada figures show.

That was partially offset by lower prices for items such as prescribed medicines (down 7.4 per cent), household appliances (down 6.7 per cent) and furniture (down 6.4 per cent).

"Canadian inflation (at 1.1 per cent) is (the) same as it ever was... low and stable," BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said in a note.

"Against this backdrop, the Bank of Canada is likely to maintain the policy rate at 1.0 per cent at next week's interest rate policy meeting," RBC Economics added.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca -- with files from The Canadian Press

-- with files from The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 19, 2013 B6

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