THE PRODUCE AISLE

What does $8.99 cauliflower mean to Canadian growers?

Lately, food conversations seem to lead to the crazy prices we are experiencing, especially in produce. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon: poor growing conditions in the U.S. have hurt supply, the exchange rate with the U.S. dollar and the fact that produce prices are adjusted weekly in stores.

The $8.99 cauliflower has become the poster child for the high price of fresh food. Obviously, this is the extreme but it is true the trend for pricing is up and consumers will have to decide if they are willing to pay the price or change their buying habits. Last week, mid-February, I did see a $2.99 cauliflower so some sanity has returned.

Supply and demand will continue to fluctuate as they always do. In the U.S., water and labour are big issues that will continue to impact its ability to supply.

It looks like the weaker Canadian dollar will bring a 25-40 per cent lift to the cost of goods for the foreseeable future. This means we could see higher prices through the spring as we get closer to our local season. Consumers will be used to paying more for many commodities, even storage crops where the locally produced supply runs out in the spring.

One important fact that gets missed by consumers is that our growers’ input costs are impacted by the exchange rate just as much as the produce imported from the U.S. It is important for growers to communicate these facts to customers. The prices on our locally produced products should be lower than the imported product but, given input costs, will level out higher than previous years.  Often, local produce is the best quality in our stores and there should be a fair price for that.

Some consumers will reduce their purchases of fresh produce when the prices get too high. They will move to less expensive frozen or canned vegetables. This could hurt sales on some items as we get into the local growing season. Growers and retailers should work together to educate the consumer when the local season starts.

Publish date: 
Monday, February 15, 2016

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