Pay $40 for chicken? Forget it. How one Toronto condo building found a solution for the rising cost of food – Toronto Star
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For Dan Flatt, the solution to higher food bills was to look to his neighbours.
In 2021, when food prices really started to soar, he utilized his North York condo’s Facebook group to start bulk buying with other residents in the building.
“It first began with toilet paper from Costco and seeing who wanted to pitch in, and it just grew from there to other items,” he says.
“You save by doing it and get to know your neighbours,” Flatt says. “It was helpful in lockdown and now it’s helpful with higher grocery prices.”
For Jenn Wilson, the solution was in the frozen food section. She avoids the fresh produce aisles at her local No Frills.
The soaring costs of fresh fruits and vegetables aren’t worth paying, in her view. “The price has gone up but the quality has gone down,” she adds.
Hundreds of Canadians have taken to social media to complain about the sticker shock, and some items have been hit worse than others. Outcries over the cost of eggs, chicken, tomatoes, lettuce, cereal and oil are just some of the items that plague shoppers on their weekly haul.
In December 2022, the price for eggs and cereal shot up 16.5 per cent compared to December 2021. For chicken it’s 11 per cent, cooking oil is 21 per cent, tomatoes are almost 22 per cent, and lettuce is a whopping 32.8 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.
While inflation fell to 6.3 per cent in December, it remains persistently high in the grocery aisles. The annual rate of grocery inflation fell to 11 per cent, down slightly from November’s 11.4 per cent. Food prices have outpaced the headline inflation number for 13 months straight.
Canada’s big three supermarket chains are profiting from the record high grocery prices, a Star analysis found. It doesn’t make the big chains inclined to lower prices any time soon, experts say.
So what can shoppers do, beyond coupons and price-checking, to save some bucks when they cash out?
While they require more time and planning, financial planners offer five ways to manage the higher cost — and still eat the foods you love.
Buy in bulk with others
Buying products in bulk on sale is a sure-way method to save, says Janet Gray, certified financial planner with Money Coaches Canada.
“Let’s say you need five cans of tuna, but you need to buy 10 cans to get it on sale. Buy the 10 cans and split the cost with a family member or neighbour,” she says. “You’re doing two things at once: buying in bulk on sale and splitting the cost with others.”
It’s exactly what Flatt did.
He got 80 per cent of the condo dwellers in his building to pitch in on collectively buying in bulk. It started with Costco then grew to directly sourcing from suppliers and farms, which would offer discounts if Flatt and his neighbours bought large quantities of food and other items.
“There were significant savings in a lot of essential categories, especially when compared against other delivery options like Instacart,” he says.
It was so popular that Flatt decided to turn the idea into an app, where other communities of neighbours could organize themselves for group buying. The pilot for the app, Naborino, will begin in North York next month.
Get on the apps
There are a number of useful apps that consumers can use to save, said Jessica Moorhouse, financial educator and host of the More Money Podcast.
The first recommendation is Flipp, which is the best app for price comparisons and deals, she says. The app acts as a digital version of paper ads and flyers for sales and discounts, helping people find the best deals at local stores.
“It’s really easy to use and the most comprehensive for deals,” Moorhouse adds.
Another app is Flashfood, which notifies you when food is about to expire at the grocery store and is being sold at a discount. The produce is still fresh and it avoids food waste. You can browse deals of up to 50 per cent off and choose the items to pick up on the app.
Mix it up with a local grocer
It’s convenient to just go to your closest store and get all the shopping done in one go, but sometimes it helps to mix up where you shop, says Gray.
The Star previously reported that food terminals sell rejected food loads from chain supermarkets at a much cheaper price, which is why you see that reduced value at the local, independent grocer. The $8 romaine lettuce at Loblaws is closer to $3 at the independent store.
“Buying local is important and also buy what’s in season,” Gray says. “It can end up saving you quite substantially these days, especially with fresh produce.”
Meatless Mondays? Make it every other day
Many households commit to Meatless Monday for environmental or health reasons, says Pamela George, a financial literacy counsellor. But now, her clients are committing to meatless dinners multiples times a week to cut back on costs.
On Twitter, Brad Dart shared that two pounds of beef tenderloin at the grocery store was selling for $104. “And I thought $40 for chicken was bad,” he said.
Meat is so expensive now that going to a local butcher and ordering food boxes from local farms could actually be cheaper, George says.
“Also not getting those premium cuts can help,” she adds. “Chicken breast is the prime meat to buy, so maybe get brown meat instead. Or get that huge value pack at Costco. These are small ways to cut back on costs.”
Meal prep around those flyers
Preparing meals in advance is one of the best ways to save because only necessary items are bought, financial experts say.
But planning a meal around food flyer items is even better, says Gray. “Look for the items on sale and build a recipe around that. If you buy chicken and mushroom soup on sale look up what you can make with it and you’ll find so many recipes,” she says.
Being creative about making recipes with sale items ensures that you’ll save and simplifies what you make and buy, George adds. “Make more with less.”
For Wilson, she has already adopted some of the expert advice by shopping at a variety of stores for different items and heading to Dollarama for cheaper, non-perishable items and no name brands.
“The food I buy for my dog at No Frills was 79 cents in September 2021, and now it’s $1.79. At Dollarama it’s 30 cents cheaper, so why would I keep going to No Frills if I can buy the same product for less elsewhere?”
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