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Grocery prices set to rise further as B.C. foodbanks work to meet record-breaking demand

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Grocery prices in B.C. and beyond will likely rise further in the coming year, according to a new report.

According to Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University research, food prices nationwide could see a five to seven per cent spike in 2023.

"We're not expecting to see food prices drop anytime soon," said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.

The study was conducted with researchers from several Canadian universities, including The University of british Columbia. They found this year, an average family of four will spend up to $16,288.41 per year on food, an increase of up to $1,065.60 from the previous year.

Charlebois says the lack of competition in Canada could be one of the issues driving the spike in prices.

"If you compare profit margins of grocers in Canada versus the United States, our grocer's margins are double," said Charlebois. "Which means the landscape in Canada is much less competitive."

He points the finger at large grocers dominating the market. 

The team of researchers forecasted food prices could stabilize in the spring, but the chances of them dropping this year are low.

The rising cost of food comes at a time when food banks across B.C. are experiencing record-breaking demand.

The Greater Vancouver Foodbank has served around 21,000 people regularly since the summer, but Chief Operating Officer Cynthia Boulter, says that number is rapidly growing and breaking previous records.

"We are signing up 800 to 1,000 on average new clients every month," said Boulter.

The GVFB provides millions of pounds of food to 142 community partners each week, which includes transition homes, schools, and community centres.

Butler says last year, 28 per cent of the foodbank's clients were children, 15 per cent were seniors, and the remaining 57 per cent were adults.

"Our community agencies before the pandemic received just under one million pounds of food, and during that first full year of the pandemic, we tripled that," said Boulter.

One of those agencies is Kitsilano Neighbourhood House, which is working to meet the heightened need.

Ksenia Stepkina, the community food developer, says the demand for some programs has tripled. She says much of the funding many clients were receiving during the pandemic has now dried up, but the need for basic necessities still needs to be addressed.

"Food insecurity is not a personal choice, it's not an individual's fault but is a symptom of a failed system. And we need to address the root of food insecurity, which is poverty," said Stepkina.

Kits Care Cafe, Coordinator Aaron Peat, has also seen demand surge among people from all walks of life.

"We see new clientele are coming in and saying, 'This is just a time we are down and out,'" he said

The concerning trend of families and individuals turning to food banks and other services has forced the B.C. Alliance for Healthy Living to call on all levels of government to step in and stem the tide.

"We have long called for increases in disability assistance, and we believe that those relate to the actual cost of food," said Rita Koutsodimos, executive director.

She says the rates should move with the fluctuation of inflation to help people keep up.

Koutsodimos also says a universal school food program may help meet the demand among children.

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