Grocery bills are continuing to rise, and with the new carbon tax expected to increase food prices again, Newfoundland and Labradorians are feeling the strain in their wallets all across the province.
Food First NL chief executive officer Joshua Smee said the rising food prices are the number one issue food security organizations are dealing with today.
“Food prices are rising faster than other prices in the economy, and there are a lot of things driving that, but when it comes together, it means that we’re in a really challenging moment,” said Smee.
“It’s putting pressure on people everywhere, it’s putting pressure on household budgets, it’s putting pressure on community organizations and food programs, it is a huge crisis,” said Smee.
The federal government provided a grocery rebate to eligible Canadians on July 5, in addition to the quarterly GST/HST credit payment – offering a short-term solution to what Smee calls a “systemic level” issue.
He is encouraging residents to talk to the members of parliament (MPs) and members of the House of Assembly (MHA) who represent their constituencies.
“There could be more done to reduce the impact here by decision makers but they need to know that people want them to do something about it – and want them to do things that support the income of lower-income people,” said Smee.
“At the end of the day, this is a really hard time and it will probably be a hard time for a while so we really urge people to make sure that politicians know it is a really urgent issue.”
Various community supports are available for those struggling with the rising costs of groceries and other services.
Food First NL, for example, offers Food on the Move. This program brings affordable fresh groceries to neighbourhoods all over St. John’s.
“We purchase groceries in large quantities at wholesale prices, and then sell them at costs and manageable quantities to people, and pop up in neighbourhoods where folks may not have a lot of food access,” said Smee.
According to Smee, the program has been quite successful.
Grocery shopping tips
To help Newfoundland and Labradorians navigate grocery shopping, Dietitians of NL‘s media spokesperson, Adrianna Smallwood, provided some tips to help people save some money on their next grocery trip.
1. Shop with a budget
Smallwood suggests shoppers create a budget before heading to the grocery store based on personal income, so they know how much they can spend before going out.
2. Plan menu
Meal planning is huge when grocery shopping. “Look at the next seven to 14 days and plan out a menu so you can base off what you’re going to buy at the grocery store according to that,” Smallwood said.
“You get more out of it when you’re making another meal and adding in other ingredients, it makes it a full meal again. You can get more out of food if you add other components (e.g. adding black beans and vegetables to chicken).”
Smallwood also suggests planning around sale items. For example, a large pack of chicken or ground beef can make three or four meals that you can freeze.
3. Check your pantry
It is easy to miss an ingredient when grocery shopping or buy an extra item if you’re not sure you already have it at home.
Smallwood suggests checking your pantry before you hit the grocery store because if you forget an item and have to make a second trip, you may end up with more than you bargained for.
“Running to the store because you forgot an ingredient can lead to impulse shopping,” said Smallwood.
Know the difference between best-before dates and expiration dates.
According to Smallwood, there’s a lot of research on best-before dates and food wastage. Individuals can eat something a week to two weeks after the best-before date; it just means it will probably taste different. The expiration date, however, means the food shouldn’t be consumed after that date.
“Yogurt, for example, always has a best-before date as opposed to an expiration date and people will throw out their yogurt because it’s past the date when really, it could be safely consumed for a couple of weeks afterward, it’s just not going to have the same quality,” said Smallwood.
After the best-before dates, eating some foods for a short time can help you save money and reduce food waste.
4. Look for sales
Shopping sales are an easy way to save money at the grocery store. Smallwood suggests checking your flyers and downloading an app like Flipp, which shows all the stores around your postal code.
“You can type in, for example, ‘bread’ and it shows you Lawtons, Shoppers, Sobeys, Dominion, Walmart, all the stores, what the bread is, and then you can compare the prices of the things that you need, like common things so you’re not wasting your time going to a store and not save as much as you want,” said Smallwood.
5. Sign up for all the free memberships
Most grocery stores offer points cards and memberships that can help you save money.
Sobeys uses Scene+, Dominion and Shoppers Drug Mart use PC Optimum, and other stores take Air Miles. These memberships are often free to sign up, offering several discounts on grocery items.
Smallwood suggests them because, as you collect points, you can earn money to save on your grocery bill and earn discounts on some of your favourite products.
6. Make a grocery list
Grocery lists are best on paper or your phone.
“Take it and stick to it, don’t forget it,” Smallwood said.
“If you stick to that, then you’re not going to overspend or go outside your budget because you basically know what you’re spending before you walk in the store.”
7. Don’t shop when hungry
Grocery shopping while hungry is a recipe for impulse purchases. Smallwood suggests eating before you go – otherwise, you may notice an increased grocery bill.
8. Buy “off-brand” items
In a grocery store, everything at eye level is usually brand-name products (cereal, crackers). Smallwood said companies pay for that shelf space because it’s good advertising. After all, that’s where shoppers are looking when at the store. However, these products are often more expensive because of the brand name.
Smallwood suggests buying the store brands, such as President’s Choice and Great Value, when shopping because the products are usually cheaper and the quality is still the same.
“It’s still the same nutritional component, it’s just less expensive because it doesn’t have the big fancy package and it’s not at eye level. Pharmacists will tell you the same (for medication like Advil),” said Smallwood.
“You need to get food, you need to get nutrition, it doesn’t matter what the label says.”
9. Opt for more frozen and canned produce
Unless we’re buying local from our farmers here in Newfoundland, frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are the way to go, according to Smallwood.
“Fresh isn’t always superior to frozen and canned. Frozen fruit doesn’t lose its nutritional value, it’s frozen at peak nutrition. From the moment fresh produce is picked, it loses a lot of nutritional value by the time it reaches our plate,” said Smallwood.
Frozen and canned items also go on sale more than fresh products, and they’re best purchased without added sugar and salt.
10. Eat more plant-based proteins
Beans, peas, and lentils are cheap protein sources that are healthy compared to meats.
“A can of black beans is like $2 and you can get like five black bean burgers out of that and it’s still a good source of protein, it’s healthy for you, it’s not $18,” said Smallwood.
“I encourage people to eat plant-based meats at least twice a week.”
11. Recycle your bottles
Finally, Smallwood suggests bringing your recyclable bottles to a depot to earn extra money if you drink from many cans or bottles.
“We’re paying deposits on all of our bottles and stuff, so a way to get some money is to save up your recycling and bring it in yourself,” said Smallwood.