Lettuce, oranges, butter and beef: The cost of grocery staples has surged again and there’s no end in sight


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Lettuce, oranges, pasta, butter, cereal, and beef — food staples for most Canadian households — have seen some of the sharpest price increases due to inflation.

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Lettuce, oranges, pasta, butter, cereal, and beef — food staples for most Canadian households — have seen some of the sharpest price increases due to inflation.

According to new inflation data from Statistics Canada released Wednesday, consumers paid on average 9.7 per cent more for groceries in April, compared to a year earlier, the highest rate of food inflation in 41 years.

And the sticker shock is only going to get worse.

R.J. Johnston - Toronto Star New data from Statistics Canada indicates that grocery prices have risen 9.7 per cent overall from April 2021.

“The challenge with the factors contributing to food inflation is that they are in sequence … we started with the climate, then the pandemic, war and now we’re seeing nations hoarding. All of these factors are making food more expensive,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University and the senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab.

With product shortages due to the war in Ukraine, along with lingering supply-chain issues due to COVID-19, grocery prices will likely continue to climb, and shopping will be a struggle, said Charlebois.

Inflation is caused by multiple factors all occurring at once. And because they cannot all be resolved immediately, rising costs will continue, he said.

“We are actually expecting food prices to continue to rise for a while,” Charlebois said.

Year-over-year, lettuce is up 28 per cent, oranges saw a steep 21 per cent increase. Butter is up 15 per cent while fruit and meat have increased 10 per cent. Pasta was up almost 20 per cent, bread more than 12 per cent, cereal nearly 14 per cent and edible fats and oils are up more than 28 per cent.

Overall, grocery prices have gone up 9.7 per cent in April from 8.7 per cent in March. This represents the largest increase since September 1981.

Compounding costs in the food supply chain are now being filtered down to consumers, who are seeing the prices reflected on shelves, said Simon Somogyi, a professor at the University of Guelph who researches food policy and consumer behaviour.

High fuels costs are impacting food transportation and the cost of moving food, and due to grain shortages abroad and wheat shortages due to the war in Ukraine, products such as pasta and cereal have been impacted, said Somogyi.

Canola, sunflower oil, and palm oil are also seeing price increases due to the grains issue, he said.

When it comes to meat and dairy, above average costs are occurring because farm animals are reliant on grain products as feed, he said.

Dairy prices are controlled by the Canadian Dairy Commission and other dairy marketing boards, and they are currently recommending about an eight per cent increase in milk fat prices, and a 12 per cent increase in butter, he said.

“This is a good time for the Canadian industry to be very transparent about how dairy prices are formulated,” he said.

As well, “high fertilizer prices are particularly impacting fruit, vegetable and grain production,” said Somogyi.

“But historically, food prices in Canada drop a little bit during the summer and fall months, because we have fruit and vegetable production here and we’re less reliant on expensive exports,” he said.

Fuel, fertilizer and grain products will come down if the war in Ukraine ends, he added. But meat prices, which typically spike during grilling season in the warming months, will remain high for a little while.

Oranges are mostly imported from the U.S., especially Florida, and they’ve recently had an issue with a disease called citrus greening that has infected the stock, which has impacted prices, Somogyi said.

With fresh or frozen beef up almost 13 per cent, Charlebois recommends buying meat when it’s discounted near the end of the day.

“The good news is that the meat counter is shifting a little bit, because pork and chicken are cheaper,” he said.

And for those who haven’t already made drastic changes to how they grocery shop to avoid getting gouged, now is the time, he said.

With wages not keeping up with the average living costs in Canada, keeping grocery bills down will likely be a challenge.

Charlebois advises Canadians “buy a little at a time, change your strategy, go to different locations and get informed about prices as much as possible,” he said.

With files from Rosa Saba.

Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: obowden@thestar.ca

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