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26 Mar, Sunday
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Montreal Families

Innovative ways to save money at the grocery store

Recent trips to the grocery store have left me gaping at the receipt and rethinking how I shop for food.  Almost $10 for four litres of milk? Iceberg lettuce for $3.99? Yikes. While prices fluctuate weekly and I try to buy items on sale, there’s no doubt that our family’s grocery bills are substantially higher than in past years.

In 2022, food prices soared higher than predicted and there is little relief in sight. The authors of Canada’s Food Price Report — a university collaboration that studies and predicts Canadian food prices — expect costs to increase even further in 2023.

The forecast, prepared by researchers at the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University, University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan, predicts Canadian families will pay at least $1,000 more for food in 2023 than they did last year — to an average of $16,288.41 for a family of four (two adults and two children). Overall, prices for all food categories could increase by up to seven per cent, with vegetables having the highest increase (six to eight per cent), and bakery and dairy items rising five to seven per cent.

As the prices at the store continue their upward trend, food security will continue to be a concern for many in 2023. Last year, there were nearly 1.5 million visits to Canadian food banks, marking the highest use in history. In Montreal, demand was high, and for the first time in many years, the city’s Sun Youth Organization registered more than 5,000 families for their Christmas basket distribution.

Dalhousie University’s Andrea Rankin worked on the 2023 report and says that factors contributing to price changes include climate change, supply change disruptions, carbon taxes, geopolitical climates, and rising transportation costs.

“To say that it’s been a challenging year for Canadians at the grocery store would be an understatement,” says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, project lead and Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “Consumers will continue to get smarter about grocery shopping as they navigate through this so-called food inflation storm.”

What can concerned consumers do? The experts suggest a number of ways shoppers can manage their grocery budget by adapting their shopping strategies.

  • Become a “smart shopper” by consulting flyers for specials. If you don’t receive, or opt-out of printed flyers, there are free apps such as reebee or Flipp that can help save on shopping and make your life easier. Both allow you to search for specific items or compare prices of different brands and sizes in all the flyers at the same time to find the best deal.
  • Use free reward programs such as Checkout 51 and Caddle that offer cash back on everyday grocery items. To claim an offer, purchase the item, scan it, and upload the receipt for processing.
  • Reduce waste with apps that give recipe ideas using what’s left in the fridge. Using their app or website, BigOven helps you use up leftovers and reduce waste. Simply enter three ingredients that you have on hand and then choose from the suggested recipes.
  • Use an app like Flashfood or FoodHero to quickly and easily find discounted food at local grocery stores. The items may be nearing their expiry date, aren’t “pretty” enough for the shelves, or are surplus. By purchasing these products, not only do you save money but food is kept out of landfills.
  • Avoid pre-cut and pre-packaged items: These items are often more expensive than buying the whole product and cutting it yourself.
  • Buy frozen. Fruits and vegetables are the most common items that get tossed out. Food experts recommend buying substitutes such as frozen fruits and vegetables instead of fresh so that you’re not dealing with furry raspberries and limp beans. If you have fresh fruits at home that start to turn, slice them up and freeze in Ziploc bags.
  • Extend the shelf life of fresh foods. Some tips to keep produce at its peak include letting fruits and veggies sit in a vinegar and water bath to help stunt any bacterial growth. Use a mixture of cold water and 1 cup of white vinegar, let soak for 10 minutes and rinse. To keep your fridge at its optimal temperature, avoid cramming items together and open drawer vents.
  • Not all fresh produce belongs in the fridge and can actually be the cause of some of the spoiling of things around as they produce ethylene gas. Keep apples, melons, tomatoes and avocados out of the fridge and store bananas on their own away from other fruit. Onions, potatoes, and shallots should be removed from plastic bags and stored in a cool dark place like a basket in a cupboard.

The experts behind Canada’s Food Price Report also suggest creating and sticking to a budget and shopping list, looking for plant-based protein substitutes like chickpeas or lentils instead of meat, and freezing meat when it comes on sale.

According to the researchers, there may be some light at the tunnel. “If inflation can come down, it’s possible that we could see price increases for 2023 at or below 5 per cent, ” says Dr. Simon SomogyiUniversity of Guelph campus lead. Hardly great news, but still better than the 10.3 per cent increase that was seen in 2022.

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