Sky-rocketing produce prices mean community food organizations have to pick and choose certain items to keep healthy food hampers affordable.
“We know that things like celery, lettuce, broccoli and cauliflower went up 25 per cent over the previous year in cost per case so we’re limiting some of that so it doesn’t make such an impact on the bottom line for customers,” said Yvonne Hanson, executive director of CHEP Good Food Inc. in Saskatoon.
CHEP’s number one program, the Good Food Box, caters to low-income families and provides healthy fruits and vegetables for seven to 10 days at a time. These boxes sell for $24 each, and Hanson said it’s been a challenge shopping for the food boxes and staying on budget. CHEP even went as far as doing a comparison with its food boxes and three local supermarkets.
“Store one was $40.56, store two was $35.01, and store three was $40.45 so what you see is we’re providing food at cost, no markup … but we have to limit the variety of food we put in the box based on the rising food prices we see,” Hanson said.
That means the more expensive fruits and veggies that were once a part of every food box are now rarely available.
“People will rarely see grapes or strawberries so certain nutrients that might have been there in the past we’ve had to pull out, trying to maintain a balance in the Good Food Box,” she said adding the price for strawberries has risen 141 per cent, while long-English cucumbers have gone up 184 per cent.
But produce isn’t the first grocery item to see a spike. In the past couple of years meat has also seen a slight increase, which means low-income families have likely been finding it difficult to keep healthy protein in their diet. That’s why CHEP is including alternative proteins including lentils, chickpeas and other pulse crops; anything to avoid raising the price of the Good Food Box.
“We’re trying not to increase our prices to customers just because we want people to be able to still afford fresh fruit and vegetables,” Hanson said.
On a bi-weekly basis CHEP sells anywhere from 350 to 400 Good Food Boxes and Hanson said she expects demand to increase in 2016. She said with the way prices are going at the supermarket, she’s seeing a proactive approach from people to grow their own food.
“A lot of people are evaluating the necessity of growing food locally so we don’t have to depend on imports … We’re seeing a trend of people growing their own food and cooking and learning new ways of cooking and that’s great.”