Blimey, be prepared for more rising food prices

Limes, beef, salmon, avocado among foods that cost more

Barb Sweet bsweet@thetelegram.com
Published on April 23, 2014

If you’ve got a beef about rising food prices, you might be harbouring the grudge a long while.
“Get prepared for more. I don’t think you’ll see anything go down,” said Tom Rodgers, the produce manager at Belbin’s Grocery in St. John’s.

Throwing a steak or a salmon fillet on the barbecue and tossing up a salad is especially hard on the wallet.

And you can’t even cry in your beer over it, at least not if you’re garnishing it with a lime. Those are going for $1-$1.29 or more each — in some grocery stores the size of a ping-pong ball.

 “Green Gold” is the North American nickname for limes after drug cartels and bad weather sent the prices soaring earlier this year.

The price of beef is up anywhere from 15 per cent to as high as 35 per cent, depending on who’s buying it — retailer or customer.

Avocados sold for nearly $3 each this winter in the local supermarkets.

And salmon is out of reach for some customers, said Ben Shanahan, who owns the Fish Depot in St. John’s.

He wasn’t able to explain why, saying he’s puzzled and the distributer attributes it overhead costs and to salmon farms having to destroy stock.

Shanahan used to buy salmon for $4 a pound. Now it’s $6 a pound for a whole one.

To the customer, last year the price on salmon filet was $7.99 a pound.As of this week it’s up by $2 more a pound. Depending on what Shanahan has to pay the wholesaler, that price could go up again next week.

“Supply and demand, we all understand that,” Shanahan said.

“But to take it and filet it, lose the head and tail and all the bone, I’m throwing half the weight in the garbage.

“One day, up at the supermarket, I saw it for $14.99 a pound. It’s expensive for the customer isn’t it? It’s just ridiculous. It’s getting to the point now where people are saying, ‘It’s a fortune to get a bit of fish.’ And so it is. I can’t buy it for $5 a pound and sell it for $5 a pound. I wouldn’t be here.”

Sometimes retailers take it on the chin and wait out market fluctuations before raising the prices, said Chris Belbin, owner of Belbin’s.

“We absorbed it for as long as we could,” Belbin said of the up-tick in beef and some other things.

But  if people are willing to pay high prices for a commodity like beef,  suppliers and distributors — who sell to the grocers — aren’t likely to put the price back down.

“To be quite honest, I’ve always noticed once something goes up, it rarely comes back down,” Belbin said.

Some prices are an exception because they are just seasonal. For instance, Rodgers said he is sourcing  U.S. romaine lettuce for $70 a case now. That price will go down as Canadian produce hits the market.

And other factors come in to play when it comes to Newfoundland, such as marine transportation costs and snafus.

“We’re absolutely the end of the line over on this end,” Belbin said.

While a pound of beef is a pound of beef, manufacturers of prepackaged food have a different way of passing on costs.

For example, a pack of bacon, previously 500 grams, is now selling as a 375-gram pack for only 20 cents less.

Price fluctuations on staples like citrus, lettuce and beef are absorbed as long as possible by restaurateurs, said Phillip Caravan, owner of Zapata's Restaurant, Mexican dining on Bate’s Hill.

The biggest price surge he’s noticed in the last six months is beef.

Zapata’s also supplies wholesale items to Belbin’s and withdrew its beef chili for awhile because of the price of beef.

Caravan said he’ll be testing it back to vendors at $2 higher a container this week to see how it goes over.

“It’s not just one thing. It’s across the board,” Caravan said of the price of food.

A case of avocados used to cost the restaurant $16-18, but now costs around $26.

Corn tortillas cost more in recent years because corn crops are being used for biofuel.

“Basically it’s a catch-22. You have to charge enough on the menu to cover costs and keep alive. But you don’t want to put it up so much,” Caravan said.

“You are riding it out as long as you can.”

As for the limes as a drink ingredient or garnish, Caravan is not doing anything different because of the cost.

Neither is Greensleeves on George Street.

“I don’t even know what the price of a lime is. I just cut them up,” said Lex Griffiths, who was working the bar there Monday afternoon.