If you’ve been feeling even more sticker shock than usual at the grocery store checkout lately, you’re not alone.
Food prices, particularly fresh produce, continue to go up at an alarming rate – thanks largely to a lower Canadian dollar which hit 69 cents U.S. earlier on this year. Even though it has bounced back, fruits and vegetables are still highly vulnerable to currency fluctuations because so many of them are imported.
Food Inflation on the Rise – Grocery Shopping on a Budget
A recent University of Guelph study found that fresh vegetables have increased in price by an average of 14 per cent and fruit has jumped by an average of 11 per cent in the last year, outpacing general inflation by a wide margin and having a large impact on monthly grocery bills – so much so that the University’s Food Institute estimates the average Canadian household will spend $8,631 this year on food, including restaurants. That’s up $345 from 2015.
Where You Can Economize
There are ways to trim the cost of grocery buying, of course, without giving ground on nutrition. Frozen and canned produce can be great alternatives when a particular fruit or vegetable spikes in price. Why not experiment with new recipes using less seasonal (and more often local) vegetables like squash, parsnips, beets and sweet potatoes?
Organizations like FoodShare have long been filling food hampers and school lunch programs with oddly shaped fruits and veggies deemed too unattractive for the store shelves. Perhaps you could do the same? Loblaws’ line of Naturally Imperfect undersized or misshapen onions, apples, carrots, and sweet peppers cost roughly 30 per cent less than their eye-catching counterparts.
Make Your Grocery Dollars Work Harder
Are you taking full advantage of loyalty programs like AIR MILES® and PC Plus when shopping for groceries? You certainly won’t get rich this way, but every dollar helps.
The PC Plus program, for instance, is quite simple – particularly if you download the app to your smartphone or tablet. You can earn points in various ways by using custom offers emailed to you weekly, through in-store offers on specific products carrying a special points shelf tag, and by using a PC Plus debit or credit card.
If you pay for your purchases at a Loblaws store using your debit card, you earn five points per dollar spent. You earn double those points with a PC Financial MasterCard though: 10 points per dollar spent anywhere. The benefit? 1000 PC points is equal to one dollar.
What about using your Air Miles collector card when you make your purchases at Sobeys and Metro? You’ll earn one mile for every $20 you spend. You can also expect to receive bonus offers through both email and regular mail, and can earn extra reward miles on food in-store as well as deals advertised in weekly flyers.
Depending on how you put them to work, Air Miles are worth about 12 to 15 cents each according to most estimates.
Check Out Credit Card Offers
Signing up for an Air Miles-branded credit card such as the BMO AIR MILES® MasterCard might help boost your points balance even more. If you go this route though, be sure to shop around to see just which card offers the most generous rewards for supermarket shopping. Some credit cards operate on cash back basis with specific grocery store bonuses, whereas others are centred on accumulating more miles.
With no annual fee and 1.25% cash back on everything you spend, the SimplyCash card from American Express offers decent value. But it comes with a really interesting wrinkle when it comes to stretching your grocery dollars. When you sign up, you’ll also get 5% cash back on all eligible purchases at grocery stores, gas stations, and restaurants in Canada (up to $250) for the first six months. Refer a friend and you could earn a further bonus of $100, which would pay for a whole pile of ugly – but tasty – veggies.
Becoming A Smarter Shopper
While perks and rewards may help a bit, the only way you can drastically reduce your grocery budget is to become a smarter shopper, of course. EatRight Ontario provides easy-to-use nutrition information to help you make healthier food choices and sensibly stretch your grocery dollars, including the opportunity to speak directly to a Registered Dietitian (1-877-510-5102) at no charge.