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Why the price of vegetable oil has spiked more than other food items –



A stroll through a grocery store can be a stressful experience these days, given the hike in the price of many foods. 

And among the many items that have gotten more expensive in the past year, vegetable oil tops the list. Between August 2021 and August 2022, a three-litre container of vegetable oil increased from $8.45 to $12.01, a difference of $3.56, according to the most recent Statistics Canada retail data, compiled by CBC News.

Johnny Esposito, the owner of Esposito’s, a small grocery chain in Montreal, said he’s seen the price of oil climb dramatically — and yet shoppers still reluctantly add it to their carts. 

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“People complain. It’s so expensive, but you need it,” he said in an interview. “Oil is a staple product. It’s like having a car without gas.”

The increase in the price of vegetable oil is the most dramatic example of a more general rise in food prices. Overall, grocery prices increased at a pace of 11.4 per cent in September compared to a year ago, according to Wednesday’s inflation update from Statistics Canada. 

That’s the fastest pace of increase in grocery bills since August 1981. It’s also the 10th straight month that food prices have outstripped the overall inflation rate, which dropped to 6.9 per cent in September, down from seven per cent in August. 

Loblaw Companies Ltd. — the country’s largest grocery chain — came under fire earlier this week for its pledge to freeze the prices on its house brand, which includes more than 1,500 grocery items (including vegetable oil), until the end of January 2023. 

The announcement was panned by critics as a public relations move amid soaring inflation.

A fixture, and a key ingredient

A multitude of factors has pushed up food prices. Statistics Canada attributed the rapid increase in grocery prices to weather conditions, higher prices for fertilizer and natural gas and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“We’ve seen as a result of droughts around the world, but also the Ukrainian-Russian conflict, massive increase in the global price of grains,” said Simon Somogyi, a food professor at the University of Guelph.

Vegetable oil — a blanket term for oil derived from ingredients including palm, sunflowers, soybeans and canola — has been particularly hard hit, said Somogyi.

The effects of such an increase are wide-ranging. Vegetable oil is not only a fixture in home kitchens and restaurants, but also a key ingredient in many processed foods — driving up the price of those items as well. 

Meat — including stewing beef, chicken and pork — have also substantially increased in price.

“The production of meat and the processing of meat requires a lot of human effort, movement of stock, fuel costs, labour costs,” Somogyi said. 

“Animals, particularly the ones that we consume, have a fair diet of grains as well, and the grain prices have been spiking.”

A man looks at packaged meat in a grocery store
Groceries are pictured in a Vaughn, Ont., supermarket earlier this year. Canada’s official inflation rate declined for the third month in a row in September, but food purchased at stores increased at a pace of 11.4 per cent. That’s the fastest pace of increase in grocery bills since August 1981. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

When it comes to vegetable oil, the increase in prices began two years ago and has climbed almost ever since. 

An analysis by the International Food Policy Research Institute, a global research group, noted that supply tightened prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine due to drought in South America, a typhoon in Malaysia and labour shortages due to restrictions on mobility during the pandemic. 

More recently, the supply of sunflower oil has declined because of the war. Ukraine is the top exporter of sunflower oil globally.

Esposito said the crates of sunflower oil that arrived at his two stores this week cost $28 more than those a week prior — working out to $7 more for a three-litre bottle.

But Somogyi said he expects the price of many staples, including vegetable oil, to stabilize in the coming months. 

“We have seen over the last four-to-six months a lowering in vegetable oil prices, due to a slowing of the Ukraine conflict and better global supply, and those decreases typically take some time to be felt as lowered shelf prices, which should be imminent,” he said in a follow-up email.

WATCH | What shoppers have to say about food price increases:

Shoppers react to sky-high food prices

23 hours ago

Duration 1:42

Increases in the price of food are out of control, and on the streets of Toronto on Tuesday, Canadians told CBC News about what they are doing to deal with them.

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Consumer debt tops $2.36 trillion in third quarter, up 7.3 per cent from last year



Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year, even as mortgage volumes decline.

It says average non-mortgage debt rose to $21,183 for the highest level since the second quarter of 2020, with early signs of strain starting to show in auto loans and credit cards.

Overall non-mortgage debt came in at $599.9 billion for a 5.3 per cent climb from last year, and up 1.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, as the number of borrowers rose by 3.1 per cent.

Rebecca Oakes, Equifax Canada’s head of advanced analytics, says the rising debt stems from a combination of growth from immigration, pent-up spending, as well as increased borrowing as consumers feel the strain of higher living costs.

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Credit card spending in the quarter was up 17.3 per cent from last year to an all-time high for the time period.

Average spending put on credit cards was almost $2,447, a 21.8 per cent jump from the third quarter of 2019.

There’s been an increase in credit card spending and new cards issued across all consumer segments, including the sub-prime segments, said Oakes in a statement.

She said there are some signs that borrowers are starting to have trouble covering the bills, with average payment rates for those who carry a balance down from a year ago, she said.

“Consumers have been making strong payments, but we are starting to see a shift in payment behaviour especially for credit card revolvers — those who carry a balance on their card and don’t pay it off in full each month.”

Delinquencies on auto loans have also started to trend up, especially those opened since late 2021, she said.

The overall rate of more than 90 day delinquencies for non-mortgage debt was 0.93 per cent, up from 0.87 last year, though insolvencies are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

New mortgage volume dropped 22.7 per cent in the quarter compared with last year and by 14.9 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. First-time home buyers are paying over $500 more for almost the same loan amounts as first-time buyers last year.

Overall insolvency rates are up from a year ago but from a relatively low starting point, and there are some areas of concern including a rise in consumer proposals by seniors, said Oakes.

“The true impact of interest rate hikes could be visible by the end of 2023.”

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Trudeau, Ford mark opening of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle plant



The Canadian Press

Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:06AM EST

Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 1:17PM EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are celebrating the opening today of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

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Trudeau says electric delivery vans have started rolling off the line today at the General Motors CAMI production plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which has been retooled to build the company’s BrightDrop all-electric vehicle brand.

The prime minister was joined by Ford and the province’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

The provincial and federal governments each invested $259 million toward GM’s $2-billion plan to transform its Ingersoll plant and overhaul its Oshawa, Ont., plant to make it EV-ready.

The federal government says the Ingersoll plant is expected to manufacture 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025.

Canada intends to bar the sale of new internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles by 2035.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Food prices in Canada: Families to pay $1,065 more in 2023




Canadians won’t escape food inflation any time soon.

Food prices in Canada will continue to escalate in the new year, with grocery costs forecast to rise up to seven per cent in 2023, new research predicts.

For a family of four, the total annual grocery bill is expected to be $16,288 — $1,065 more than it was this year, the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday said.

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A single woman in her 40s — the average age in Canada — will pay about $3,740 for groceries next year while a single man the same age would pay $4,168, according to the report and Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is set to remain stubbornly high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Vegetables could see the biggest price spikes, with estimates pegging cost increases will rise as high as eight per cent, the report said.

In addition to currency risks, much of the produce sold in Canada comes from the United States, which has been struggling with extremely dry conditions.

“The western U.S., particularly California, has seen strong El Nino weather patterns and droughts and bacterial contaminations, and that’s impacted our fruit and vegetable suppliers and prices,” said Simon Somogyi, campus lead at the University of Guelph and professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“The drought is making the production of lettuce more expensive,” he said. “It’s reducing the crop size but it’s also causing bacterial contamination, which is lessening the supply in the marketplace.”

Prices in other key food categories like meat, dairy and bakery are predicted to soar up to seven per cent, the researchers found.

The Canadian Dairy Commission has approved a farm gate milk price increase of about 2.2 per cent, or just under two cents per litre, for Feb. 1, 2023.

“The increase for February is reasonable but it comes after the unprecedented increases in 2022, which are continuing to work their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said of the two price hikes of nearly 11 per cent combined in 2022.

Meanwhile, seafood is expected to increase up to six per cent, while fruit could increase up to five per cent, the report said.

Restaurant costs are expected to increase four to six per cent, less than supermarket prices, the report said.

Rising prices will push food security and affordability even further out of reach of Canadians a year after food bank use reached a record high, the report said.

The increasing reliance on food banks is expected to continue, with 20 per cent of Canadians reporting they will likely turn to community organizations in 2023 for help feeding their families, a survey included in the report found.

Use of weekly flyers, coupons, bulk buying and food rescuing apps also ticked up this year and is expected to continue growing in 2023, the report said.

“We’re in the era now of the smart shopper,” said Somogyi, also the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food.

“For certain generations, it’s the first time that they’ve had to make a list, not impulse buy, read the weekly flyers, use coupons, buy in volume and freeze what they don’t use.”

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase five to seven per cent in 2022 — the biggest jump ever predicted by the annual food price report.

Food costs actually far exceeded that forecast. Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in October compared with a year before while overall food costs were up 10.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

“We were called alarmists,” Charlebois said of the prediction that food prices could rise seven per cent in 2022. Critics called the report an “exaggeration,” he said.

“You’re always one crisis away from throwing everything out the window,” Charlebois said. “We didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, and that really affected markets.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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