Canada’s weak dollar and California drought blamed for price increase
The humble cauliflower wasn’t always a topic of dinner party conversation.
But the price of this cruciferous vegetable — elevated in recent years from the lowly veggie platter to high-end restaurant menus — has tripled in price since the fall.
It sold in some grocery stores for $7.99 this week. And people have noticed.
The price has tripled in the GTA: at many Loblaws locations, Whole Foods and at independent grocer Fiesta Farms, a non-organic cauliflower costs $6.99. At downtown specialty shop Fresh & Wild, it sold out at $8.99.
Canada’s currency crisis is “probably the No. 1 driver” of increased food costs, he said. “Most of these products are off-season here in Canada and need to be imported and bought with American dollars.”
This week, the value of Canada’s loonie dipped below 70 cents U.S., for the first time in almost 13 years.
The ongoing drought in California, where most cauliflowers for sale in Ontario are grown this time of year, has also affected farming. The weather phenomenon El Niño has brought the parched U.S. state some relief in the form of powerful rain, but that has yet to affect prices.
Cold weather in the late fall also complicated matters, leading demand to outstrip supply so severely that U.S. produce consulting company Produce Alliance declared correcting the shortage would take an “act of God” in a December report.
“It’s just like a big, total disaster,” said Louie Collins, who has been in the business for four decades. He works as a supervisor at importer Stronach & Sons Inc., which regularly imports California-grown Dole cauliflower to sell at the Ontario Food Terminal. “This year it seems to be a little bit of everything.”
In a normal year, a case of 12 cauliflower cost around $22, but over the past two months a case of 12 heads of cauliflower nearly tripled to $64, Collins said.
That’s more than $5 per vegetable. He said two weeks ago, the cost of a case rose to around $74, but prices were on the way down. (At one Metro location Wednesday afternoon the price had dropped from $6.99 to $4.99.) Stronach’s markup is around 15 per cent, which, along with the retail markup, is passed onto the consumer.
So everyone is buying less.
Customers are wondering what ever happened to the cauliflower at Toronto restaurant Fat Pasha, where it was served roasted, drizzled with tahini sauce and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. It quickly became a favourite among diners and critics, but was removed from the menu late last year as the price became prohibitive.
“For us to serve it the way we want to serve it, it would cost 40-plus dollars and I just couldn’t see the value … it’s such a shame,” said owner Anthony Rose.
“We’re hoping to bring it back to the menu as soon as we can, but that’s probably not until spring or the summer.”
While the increasing cost of food, including staples and other produce, has made headlines in the past few years, Charlebois said consumers should wait out the latest price spike and purchase alternatives such as frozen vegetables, especially in winter.
“If you see cauliflower at $8, you should not buy the cauliflower at $8,” he said.