Canadians are facing a food crisis as costs continue to escalate across the country

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This isn’t the news we want to read, especially as we head into the Thanksgiving season: Statistics Canada is reporting grocery prices have risen at their fastest rate since 1981, with prices up 10.8% compared with the year before.

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The reality is, if there’s one area really hitting Canadians in the wallet, it’s the price of food.

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Many industry analysts are calling this a financial stress storm that appears to be gaining in intensity.

You see it everywhere — from buying a litre of milk to a loaf of bread, Canadians are digging deeper than ever before as food items go through the roof.

Research shows bakery items have shot up by 13.6% compared with last year, as have non-alcoholic beverages. Eggs are up 15.8% from last year, sugar and confectionery goods are up 9.7%, and let’s not get started on fresh produce, fruit or your morning tea or coffee.

For many, particularly seniors and the impoverished, it’s devastating. Food banks are at a breaking point.

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The National Payroll Institute (previously called the Canadian Payroll Association) recently released its annual survey of working Canadians. It found the financial well-being of Canucks has declined steeply in the past year.

Key findings from the survey include those living paycheque to paycheque has increased by 26% compared with last year, that a record 11% of employed Canadians are spending more than their net pay, that the amount of working Canadians with credit card debt has skyrocketed to 42% — drastically up from 29% in 2021 — and that 85% of working Canadians say inflation and increasing costs of living are their top economic concerns.

“Saving and spending habits, along with reliance on debt, have consistently determined the cluster an individual belongs to, and each one is moving in the wrong direction,” Peter Tzanetakis, president of the National Payroll Institute, said in a recent press release.

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“With persistent inflation still an issue, it’s likely this trend will continue,” he added.

Consumers are reacting by hunkering down, cutting back and changing how they eat and what they shop for, the latest Ernst & Young future consumer index survey says.

“People have used the last two years to fundamentally rethink how they live and assess their relationship with consumerism and the values that drive their purchases,” Elliot Morris, EY Canada’s grocery and consumer packaged goods leader, wrote in an earlier email to the Sun. “Many learned to live with less during the pandemic — now they want to buy better rather than more by avoiding spending on unnecessary products and experiences.”

Consumers are getting tough on the foods they eat — or covet. According to recent GlobalData research, the “indulgent” food segment of grocery shopping, which includes such items as chocolate and confectionery categories as well as savoury snacks and ice cream, is at “high risk” to get tossed to the curb.

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“Ice cream specifically has associated manufacturing, logistics and storage costs around freezing that will have to be passed on to the consumer as energy costs continue to rise,” Jenny Questier, senior analyst at GlobalData, said in a recent press release, adding that “as these products are often positioned as treats and rewards, and not staple parts of weekly meals, they are more likely to be compromised in consumers’ shopping baskets as household budgets continue to get tighter and consumers consider their health priorities.”

What can consumers do to offset the rising prices? Get creative at the cash register. Shop several times a week to take advantage of fresh items being marked down at the end of the day — some of the best times to shop are around 5 p.m. That’s when you’ll see many items getting marked down for quick consumption.

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Menu planning is key to budget planning, and ultimately saving money. Tips include mapping out a week’s worth of foods, doubling up on batches and freezing what you don’t eat that night. Learn to blend big priced items like meats with more budget-friendly produce to bulk up a dinner with not only nutrition but flavour.

Doom and gloom aside, many say there’s hope at the end of the tunnel.

“Many Canadians feel stretched thin and that the ability to change their financial position remains out of their control,” Matt Davidson, dean of science at Western University and director of the Financial Wellness Lab of Canada, said in a recent press release.

“The research, however, demonstrates that moving to a state of improved financial well-being is not only possible, it’s probable if you undertake certain measures that can secure your individual financial position.”

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Canadian grocery specific stats from the future consumer index:

  • Most important purchase criteria: price is priority for 68% of Canadians, while 41% consider whether it is healthy/good for me
  • Willingness to purchase a store brand/private label: 67% are willing to purchase fresh food and 64% are willing to purchase packaged food that is a store brand or private label
  • Over half of Canadians will continue to do their shopping in-store for packaged and fresh foods
  • 83% of Canadians are expecting fresh/packaged food prices to increase, and 75% expect food staples like wheat or rice to increase in the next three months
  • With many products out of stock when it comes to food staples and fresh or packaged foods, over 25% of consumer have replaced the product or brand with an alternative

Personal efforts to live more sustainably:

68% are bringing reusable shopping bags to stores

Over 50% are recycling or repurposing products after use

 – Ernst & Young future consumer index survey

Next week: Recipes that are delicious, nutritious – and will save you money

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