Many Canadians are having to alter or sacrifice some of their living and eating habits as rising food costs nip at their wallets.
Last week, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians paid 9.7 per cent more for food in April 2022 than a year prior, while average hourly wages rose by about 3.3 per cent year-over-year.
Basic foods like fresh fruit have jumped by 10 per cent, while pasta prices have spiked by nearly 20 per cent.
Statistics Canada places the blame on the Russian invasion of Ukraine mingled with rising fuel costs.
Cecilia Rands, a 32-year-old mother in Regina, was unsurprised when told about the year-over-year change in food costs. She said she had seen a “stark” change on sticker prices.
“It’s definitely affected the choices I’m making at the grocery store,” she said.
“At the end of the day, the bills are what they are and I can’t [always afford] the things that I wish I could.”
She looks to no-name brands, or communicating with siblings about sales and good pricing in the city. She joked about having to do math equations to decide if driving to different stores for cheaper foods is worth the gas.
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Rands said the price of inflation has been taxing. It has reached the point that she will eat lighter when her kids are in the custody of her ex-husband, and will only bring out the larger, heartier meals when they’re back at her house.
“I’ll have some frozen vegetables and toast and peanut butter for supper, or like some ramen, and I find different ways to feed myself without having to cook a full meal … when I’m on my own,” she said.
“Those are the concessions I make to be able to provide better food for my kids when they’re with me.”
Sometimes that means getting the “take home today” foods that have slashed prices and nearing expiring dates, she said.
It’s a complex game made more so for those with dietary restrictions, like Crystal Nieviadomy’s seven-year-old daughter with Type 1 diabetes.
Nieviadomy is careful about packing her daughter snacks. She finds snacks high in carbohydrates are more cost-friendly than others, but require her to take extra doses of insulin. It’s a balancing act.
Nieviadomy posted to a Facebook group called Regina Moms, asking what others have done to manage their budgets amid soaring food prices.
“I know that we’re not the only family that are having these hard conversations every week, coming home from getting groceries on Sunday just thinking, ‘Oh my goodness I spent $100 more than I planned to and now what does that mean for the other things that we had planned to do this week?'” she said.
She said the responses showed she was right. Everyone’s wallets are lighter leaving the store.
“Pretty well across the board, everything is going up,” said Tim Shultz, co-owner of Regina grocery store Local and Fresh.
“In some cases local products are maybe more expensive than a similar product that you can get that was made outside of the country. I think that is impacting us in a slightly different way.”
His shop advertises 100 per cent Canadian product, with produce coming from Saskatchewan farms.
Leisle said he saves money on things like shipping costs, but that farming is also getting more expensive, causing his in-store prices to grow.
“Customers do have less to spend and they’re starting to make decisions on what [they’re] willing to spend on,” he said.
The Regina Food Bank said it was sending out about 900 kilograms more food daily in March than it had in January 2022.
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At Regina Education and Action on Child Hunger, or REACH, workers have seen the number of people requesting the family box program — a food box bought at wholesale price and sold at cost to people living on social assistance — cut in half. Even at the reduced prices, the boxes are too much for some.
Matt Leisle, executive director of REACH, said between rising food costs and the widely criticized Saskatchewan Income Support program introduced to replace two, older programs, people are falling deeper into food insecurity.
“For people [who] are on social assistance, they’re just feeling the crunch of not having the dollars and not [getting] the help they previously received under the old program,” said Leisle.
Fending off high food costs
Some people are finding innovative or subtle ways to sidestep food pricing.
Matt Thompson said has an outdoor garden at his Regina home in the summer — but is hindered by Saskatchewan winters.
This past winter season he built a hydroponics farm using PVC piping and help from a local store.
He started with lettuce, then added tomatoes, cucumbers and most recently is getting ready for peppers.
“In January, I would walk downstairs and snip lettuce for a salad … I think I’ve also saved quite a bit of money,” he said. “It’s a closed system so I don’t add more water than regular … it’s fairly cheap to operate.”
As a meat-lover, Thompson said he relies on market wisdom from his dad, who often knows the best price and place to go for different cuts of meat.
“If I could grow that at home, I definitely would,” he laughed.
Others, like Raiza Ocampo, a mother of three in Regina and known on social media as YQR Couponbae, rely on classic methods: coupons and sales.
She uses phone apps for digital flyers, like Flipp and Reebee, to find the cheapest price and price match at stores.
Ocampo also suggests watching prices on some of your go-to items, taking note of what the cheapest price is, then buying in bulk when you see it reach that low mark.
“I would work on tackling whatever your big expenses are in a grocery store,” Ocampo said.
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