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Canadians opt for frozen over fresh fruit and vegetables as produce prices soar almost 12%Monday, June 06, 2016 > 11:01:59
More than a quarter of Canadians have reduced their fresh fruit and vegetable consumption over the last year because of steeply climbing produce prices, according to a new report.
The study from the University of Guelph’s Food Institute and Dalhousie University found that 27 per cent of those surveyed last month had cut back on the level of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diets in the last 12 months.
“I was aware that some were walking away from the fruit and vegetable counter as a result of higher prices, but not that many,” said Sylvain Charlebois, agriculture expert and dean of management at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“The concern that we have is that, unlike with beef, is there are few substitutes for fruit and vegetables.”
And while 16 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they consider juice as an alternative when fresh produce prices become too prohibitive, Charlebois noted, “not all juices are created equal.”
Two-thirds of survey respondents said they had avoided buying one specific fruit and vegetable in the last year due to higher prices. At the top of the avoided list was headline-grabbing cauliflower, whose price soared to $8 in Canada before Christmas due to the drought in California and a weak Canadian dollar, with 48 per cent of respondents avoiding a purchase. Behind that was fresh broccoli, with 27 per cent of respondents taking it off their grocery list. And twenty-two per cent had avoided buying lettuce.
Loblaw Cos Ltd. president Galen Weston cited the trend during the grocery retailer’s fourth quarter conference call in February.
“All of a sudden people stopped buying cauliflower and we saw spike in volume around a lower-priced product, which was potatoes,” Weston told analysts. “That’s really about customers trading inside their basket for better value.”
Meantime, the Guelph and Dalhousie study found that 45 per cent of respondents had bought more frozen produce in order to reduce their grocery bills.
The study also noted that the lower the household income, the more likely respondents were to reduce consumption of vegetable and fruit, and higher-income households were less likely than lower-income households to see juices as alternative replacement for fruits and vegetables.
“I am looking at the numbers and I think Weston is right. I think most grocers are trying to position their private labels favourable. I am not sure you are going to see the same thing when Target was here and food inflation was barely 0.2 per cent. They are really disciplined.”
Overall food prices were up 3.2 per cent year over year in April, according to Statistics Canada, after rising 3.6 per cent in March. But fresh vegetable prices were up 11.7 per cent from a year ago, and fresh fruit prices were 11 per cent higher.
The Food Institute food expects overall food inflation rates across the country of two per cent to four per cent in 2016, and estimates the average Canadian household will spend as much as $345 more on food this year compared to last.