Tuesday, February 10, 2009

For discussion

Canada's Heart and Stroke Foundation just released its annual Report Card on Canadians' Health, where they did a study over several months having people investigating the cost of healthy food in 66 communities across Canada. They were shocked to discover that there was a much higher price discrepancy than they expected, a price spread that went beyond transportation costs and location. (It was most striking to see how much more expensive healthy food is in inner-city Toronto than it is in its suburbs, and how much of a price spread you can get shopping in different areas and suburbs of Vancouver.)

And it's not even a matter of fresh ingredients: dry whole wheat pasta can vary in cost between 99 cents and $7 (not counting sales) in non-remote communities across Canada, while pop, chips and cookies stay roughly the same in cost.

Here's CBC's report on it. I particularly like the interactive map that the Heart and Stroke Foundation has provided, and also their "Apples to Apples" chart, where they compare the price of six apples across the country, (Warning: pdf file).

So: am I being too much of a big old socialist that this sort of disparity makes me angry? Is this just a reality of the marketplace, that people in Calgary should pay so much more for healthy food than Edmonton? What do you think of the H&S Foundation's recommendation that the government should start implementing regulations, to make sure that everyone across Canada can afford to eat healthy food? Should we all just stick to the big boxes like Superstore, which seems to have nation-wide pricing, or can people in the inner cities even access these places?


(And now I'm going to bed.)


The Blog Fodder said...

Competition and information will do far more to even out prices and much more efficiently than regulation. When we first moved to Regina, meat was 30% more expensive than in Saskatoon. The Leader Post wouldn't touch it because Safeway would pull their advertising. Once Superstore built along Albert Street, prices soon matched. Broadcasting the survey information far and wide will do a great deal to arbitrage prices.

C said...

interesting how the widest price variation in ontario was on lean ground beef ($4-$13)
but the widest price variation in BC was on cheddar cheese ($5-13)

Queen of West Procrastination said...

Oh, I'm glad that you're around to comment on this, Uncle Al! Chris spent far too much time trying to research to get some context on how different stores work.

So, I now have another argument for "Why I don't feel guilty shopping at Superstore" when I deal with Victoria people?

LynnieC said...

I have nothing to say on this (except my socialist tendencies make me want these prices evened out!!) but I wanted to comment because my verification word was so awesome.


Arlen said...

While being slightly to the right of being called a socialist, I do think that there should be some sort of regulations on the amount of profit that can be taken on certain food items (ie. the healthy staples). More importantly than the price we pay however is that portion that goes to the actual producers. I feel that they (how can you tell I have farmers in the family)should be receiving a fair price for their product. If they were able to receive a fair price they would not be required to produce at all costs and could cut back on man-made fertilizers, pesticides and growth hormones. I say tax junk food/ fast food and use the money to level out the prices so it is more independant of location. That must be within reason though and not abused so that I am not paying to fly fresh fruit into some rich persons private hideaway in northern Saskatchewan when they can well afford there own fruit.

On a different side note why is gasoline so much cheaper in Ontario where it has been transported thousands of kms, that it is here when I live less than 10 km from the refinery and less than 100 km from the oilfield?


markdynna said...

I agree that competition will do better to even out prices than regulation. The problem with trying to legislate things like that is that companies will just find ways to "game" the rules. They request that manufacturers create another product "just different enough" to avoid the regulations, or just stop carrying the healthy products because they're not worth it (especially if they're profit-capped).

Why not motivate with the carrot instead of the stick? Have the gov't provide a $/unit rebate of some kind on Healthy products. The key would be to provide the incentive on a per/unit basis rather than per/$. That way the store is encouraged to lower prices to encourage volume sales, and then another competing store may lower prices further in order to steal volume and then you have the competition environment that is so good for the consumer.

The Blog Fodder said...

Talking to C's comment - I would have to see the stores and the products and know something about the neighbourhoods. What kind of Cheddar cheese? Old, extra old, mild, farmer? What size packages? Sales? Organic? Deli or dairy counter? Brand? Cheddar is not cheddar. Same questions re lean ground beef.
And who decides what is "healthy" food? Who did the survey?

Reading some of the comments scares me to death. Stop your social meddling, you watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside.

I'm sorry, but plastics, pesticides, GMO's and fertilizers feed the world while the overstuffed argue against it.

Shop at the store in Mill Bay where my friend Wayne shops. You will pay three prices and get wonderful quality, with as much natural organic etc as all the Island's Chardonnay Socialist's demand. Shop at Superstore in Victoria or in Duncan (I think there is one) and you can eat well and healthy for a lot less.

Queen of West Procrastination said...

I think Uncle Al just called my Father-in-Law a watermelon.

The Blog Fodder said...

I'm sorry. i get carried away. And frustrated with people who think the government should meddle in farming. I live in a part of the world where the government meddled in farming and it will take another generation or two before the whole mess is sorted out. If the government regulates to prevent fraud, theft, coercion and maintain high food safety standards, with some kind of emergency safety net, it is up to farmers to make a living. If they don't like commodity prices for what they produce then figure out how to add value.