Charities brace for rising food prices

Global costs rose for the eighth straight month in February

Salvation Army volunteer Brenda Maylor prepares vegetables for dinner on Monday as food services manager Tim Sarsfield is concerned with the rising cost of vegetables. Sunday night they served 205 dinners and

Salvation Army volunteer Brenda Maylor prepares vegetables for dinner on Monday as food services manager Tim Sarsfield is concerned with the rising cost of vegetables. Sunday night they served 205 dinners and

Organizations that feed the hungry in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are bracing for a hit to their budgets as global unrest and rising oil prices push up the cost of food across the world.

The Salvation Army’s Caring Place predicts a five per cent increase in its food costs over last year, a spike that comes as more people use their services.

In 2010, the shelter served 96,000 meals compared to 79,000 in 2009.

Caring Place director Darrell Pilgrim expects the number to go up again this year.

The increase in demand for its services, coupled with rising costs has already forced the Sally Ann to cut staff.

“We are basically looking at other avenues in our facility to cut costs,” said Pilgrim.

“We’ve got to find whatever we can do to provide the essential services like meals.”

Global food prices rose for the eighth straight month in February, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported last week.

It also warned that unexpected spikes in oil prices could exacerbate an already precarious situation in food markets.

The Cereal Price Index, which includes prices of main food staples such as wheat, rice and maize, rose by 3.7 per cent in February to 254 points – the highest level since July 2008.

The agency is now calling for a greater investment in agriculture from both the public and private sectors to increase productivity.

Joanne Olson, executive-director of the Friends in Need Food Bank, is already stockpiling essentials like protein.

“We are definitely going to be affected by a rise in prices,” she said. “We are not as of yet.”

The Maple Ridge-based food bank normally doesn’t purchase food until summer, but has already started filling up its warehouse in case food prices spike.

“We are not sure what’s going to happen,” said Olson.

“It’s not just the cost to us, but to our donors. If they are all paying five per cent more, they are not going to buy as much for the food bank.”

Analysts predict Canada’s wholesale suppliers and grocers will most likely pass on rising commodity prices to consumers.

Besides uprisings in oil producing countries like Libya, an increase in demand for certain food products from emerging economies such as India and China is also putting pressure on the global food supply.

“There is no doubt, in my mind, that consumers will see the impact of these global pressures in the next couple of weeks,” said David Wilkes, with the Retail Council of Canada.

Grocery giants, including the Overwaitea Group and Loblaws, would not comment on a possible price hike, but George Weston Ltd, which makes baked goods, has said it will charge five per cent more for its products as of April 1.

Canada’s highly competitive grocery sector will help keep prices down for sometime, but Wilkes believes increased costs will eventually be pass down to the consumer.

“It’s a very low margin business,” he explained. “It’s a penny-business, as we like to say, so it’s very difficult for retailers to absorb any of it.”