Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Production Research
Food costs vary widely across Canada, forcing some to forgo healthy choices

February 12, 2009  By The Canadian Press

Feb. 12, 2009 – Toronto – The cost of healthy food items varies widely across the country, with
some communities paying double and sometimes even six times more for
the same product than others, a report released Monday by the Heart and
Stroke Foundation suggests.

The cost of healthy food items varies widely across the country,
with some communities paying double and sometimes even six times more
for the same product than others, a report released Monday by the Heart
and Stroke Foundation suggests.

The prices of foods like fruit,
vegetables, whole grains and lean meat ranged greatly, even from city
to nearby city and within urban areas as well. Food prices in
Scarborough, in the east end of Toronto, were lower than in the
economically challenged Jane and Finch area in the city's northwest.


there was little variation in the cost of snack foods – items like
cookies, potato chips and soft drinks that should be consumed in

The heart health charity said some Canadians are
forgoing food items that should be part of a healthy diet because of
high prices. And it suggested governments should take steps to help
level the playing field in the pricing of such foods.

healthy is a key factor in preventing heart disease and as a
cardiologist I counsel my patients on this daily. This report by the
foundation should be a wake-up call that healthy eating is potentially
out of reach for many Canadians," said Dr. Beth Abramson, a foundation

She and others wondered why governments can charge
a consistent price for alcohol across a province, for instance, but a
staple like milk costs twice as much in Wolfville, N.S., as it does in
the Vancouver area.

The findings on the prices of healthy foods
were the subject of this year's annual heart health report card from
the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

The foundation bolstered its
argument with data from a 1,400-person national poll that suggested 47
per cent of Canadians occasionally go without fresh fruit, vegetables,
whole grain and dairy products or lean meat or fish because they cost
too much.

The Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors questioned
the way the foundation gathered its pricing data, saying it may have
painted an unduly negative picture of the affordability of healthy food
in Canada.

"I don't want to disparage or get into a
my-data's-better-than-their-data type conversation. It's just, to use
an analogy – a pollster certainly wouldn't base conclusions on 66
people," said council vice-president Dave Wilkes, referring to
volunteer shoppers who collected the data for the Heart and Stroke

"We don't want to leave Canadians with the impression
that healthy choices are not affordable. Because they certainly are.
Canadians benefit from one of the most affordable grocery baskets in
the developed world."

The foundation asked volunteers in 66
cities to go shopping in October 2008, giving them a list of healthy
foods adapted from Health Canada's national nutritious food basket. The
food basket was designed to feed a family of four for a week.

is no single grocery store chain that sells across the country. So the
shoppers were instructed to buy from a national or regional grocery
chain but not a discount grocery store.

Wilkes said leaving the
food prices offered by discount grocery stories out of the analysis
skewed the findings upwards. He noted that in some markets, 50 per cent
or more of the retail grocery sales occur in discount grocery stores.

share their goals of providing accurate information on that (the price
of healthy foods)," he said. "We're just not certain that this study
achieves those goals because of some of the way that the data was

Where applicable, the shoppers were instructed to buy
specified national brands to ensure that the analysis was based on a
comparison of similar items. Selected foodstuffs included six medium
apples, a bag of potatoes, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, one per cent
milk, cheddar cheese, lean ground beef and peanut butter.

price of apples varied wildly, from 90 cents in Peterborough, Ont., to
$7.94 in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. But they were even expensive in some
places below the tree line. In Calgary, the six apples cost $5.02 but
up the highway in Edmonton, they were $1.71.

While remote
Northern communities were often among the costliest places to shop for
food, they weren't the only places paying at the high end of the food
pricing scale.

In Thunder Bay, Ont., 520 grams of cheddar cheese
cost $14.61, but in Barrie, Ont., the same item cost $4.99. One
kilogram of lean ground meat went for $13.21 in Ottawa, but cost $4.74
in Montreal, less than two hours drive away.

That last example
really raised eyebrows, said Marco Di Buono, director of research for
the Heart and Stroke Foundation's Ontario chapter. "It was cheaper to
buy lean ground beef in the North than it was in Ottawa. That kind of
price variation is inexplicable."

The foundation noted that the
situation was even worse in some remote First Nations and Inuit
communities. In fact, prices from Bearskin Lake reserve in Northern
Ontario were not included in the national analysis because many of the
items were either extremely expensive or simply unavailable.

choices were often more expensive than less healthy alternatives. For
instance, margarine with trans fats cost on average $2.79 compared to
$3.29 for trans fat-free margarine. Brown rice was $5.09 compared to
white rice at $4.71.

Kim Raine, a nutritionist and obesity expert at the University of Alberta, was dismayed by the findings.

really easy for a nutritionist like myself to say 'The most important
thing you can do for your diet is to eat more fruits and vegetables,"'
she said.

"But if those fruits and vegetables aren't available or
if they're much more expensive than your budget allows, that's a really
impractical recommendation."

Visit The Canadian Press

Print this page


Stories continue below