Why your mac and cheese is a lot more expensive than it was last year – Canada’s National Observer | Hot Mobile Press

Canadians hoping to avoid the worst of rising food prices may want to cut back on Caesar salad, buttered toast and macaroni and cheese. Lettuce, butter, and pasta—key ingredients for these perennial favorites—are among the foods with the highest price peaks in the past year.

Statistics Canada reported last week that the average price of groceries in Canada rose 8.8 percent, forcing about a quarter of Canadians to cut their grocery bills to adjust. But these increases were not evenly distributed, as the price of some groceries rose almost twice as much as others.

“When it comes to (the price of) food, there are a number of factors that come into play,” explains Rick Barichello, professor of food economics at the University of British Columbia. Weather has a “big impact” due to its impact on production, but supply chain disruptions, widespread inflation and increased demand also play a role.

Prices are also dictated by so-called commodity futures, or the price that investors and traders estimate for future crops of commodities like wheat or palm oil when they are harvested. This price varies in response to extreme weather conditions such as drought or floods, geopolitical forces such as the war in Ukraine, and global trade regulations. Each item is affected differently by these forces – which is why the prices of some groceries have risen by almost a third, while others have risen more slowly or been relatively flat since last June, he explained.

In addition, the price changes tracked by the federal government are averages from multiple data sources, explained University of Dalhousie food economist Sylvain Charlebois. They don’t necessarily match the prices Canadians see at the grocery store, as stores set their prices to account for additional expenses such as salaries and construction costs.

Canada’s National Observer Check out the five items with the biggest gains to see what sets them apart.

Cooking Oil – up 28.8%

Prices of cooking oils like sunflower, palm and canola have risen by almost a third in the past year, impacting the cost of everything from french fries to baked goods. This surge was triggered by the war in Ukraine, the world’s largest exporter of sunflower oil, before Russia invaded.

Concerned about the war’s impact on domestic cooking oil supplies, Indonesia — the world’s largest palm oil producer — imposed a three-week ban on palm oil exports. With palm oil being a key ingredient in everything from food to detergents and cosmetics, the Indonesian ban meant demand outstripped supply, prices skyrocketed and sparked price hikes in other cooking oils used as substitutes.

Cooking oils like sunflower seed and canola have seen some of the biggest price increases in Canada over the past year. Photo by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / Canada’s National Observer

Pasta – up 20.6%

The cost of pasta has increased by almost 20 percent on average over the past year. The increase was due to the drought in North America in 2021, which dampened yields of durum wheat, the staple ingredient in pasta, in Canada and the US. For example, Canada exported 44 percent less wheat last year than it did in 2020, according to Statistics Canada. Higher trucking costs, fueled by increases in oil and gas prices, are another factor behind higher pasta prices.

Canadians hoping to avoid the worst of rising food prices may want to scale back on Caesar salad, buttered toast and macaroni and cheese, as lettuce, butter and pasta have seen their prices soar. #Inflation

The drought in western North America last year reduced global supplies of durum wheat, a key ingredient in pasta. Photo by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / Canada’s National Observer

Lettuce – up 18.4%

While lettuce is mostly water, the price of lettuce has skyrocketed in the last year. Most of Canada’s lettuce comes from the US, where prices have risen nearly 61 percent in recent months, according to US government data. The surge was caused by below-average inventories — a result of farmers growing smaller crops to protect against sudden falls in demand triggered by the pandemic. Shipping costs from California are also likely a factor.

With demand faltering due to the pandemic, major lettuce growers in the southern US have been wary of their bottom line, planting less than usual in recent months. The result was a reduced supply that sent prices skyrocketing. Photo by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / Canada’s National Observer

Butter – up 17.5%

The cost of butter has skyrocketed, largely due to the rise in milk prices. Canada’s milk prices are set by the Canadian Dairy Commission, a Crown Corporation that limits how much milk farmers can produce under the supply management system. In exchange for these limits, it guarantees farmers a milk price high enough to cover production costs.

In response to the rising costs for milk producers, the Commission increased the milk price by around 8.4 percent in February. Last month, the organization announced an unusual second price hike in a year, pushing prices up 2.5 percent. While these increases have pushed up the price of all dairy products, butter has been particularly hard hit because it is the most valuable and scarcest available.

Butter is the most valuable component of milk and has experienced the strongest price increase over the past year. Photo by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson / Canada’s National Observer

Fish – up 13.4%

Fish prices rose an average of 13.4 percent last year, according to Statistics Canada. The problem is “clearly” transport, Charlebois said, with high fuel costs being a key force driving prices up. Some fisheries, such as sockeye salmon, have also seen reduced harvests recently, due to factors such as climate change or overfishing limiting available supplies.

Fish prices have risen sharply in recent months, partly due to transport costs and dwindling stocks. Photo by Marc Fawcett-Atkinson/National Observer

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