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Nutrition North Canada a 'sick joke,' says Northerner
Minimal discounts, empty shelves and no food mail marks disappointment for first week

Samantha Stokell
Northern News Services
Published Friday, April 8, 2011


Empty shelves in stores and minimal discounts on food are leaving many Northerners feeling frustrated and hungry for healthy, fresh food since the cancellation of the Food Mail program.

NNSL photo/graphic

Danny, left, and Joseph Vayha, right, unload crates of food at the airport in Deline last year. Residents of some Northern communities are longing for the old Food Mail program since April 1 when the new Nutrition North Canada program came into effect. Many shoppers are experiencing higher prices and diminished availability of products. - NNSL file photo

Without the Canada Post Food Mail program, consumers have found empty shelves in stores due to increased demand, subsidies that amount to mere pennies and drastic increases in shipping costs as a result of the federally-run Nutrition North Canada which started on April 1.

"Our Northern store is very small and if you are not one of the first 50 people in the store you do not get fresh fruit, veggies, meat and milk or bread. This store can not supply enough food for 1,000 people," said Dorothy Gloux, a chef for Red Dog Camp in Norman Wells and resident of the community for seven years. "I don't know how long I will stay in Norman Wells now. The Food Mail makes all the difference,"

During the first week of the Nutrition North program, the Northern Store in Norman Wells experienced a 49 per cent increase in food sales over 2010, with milk sales "going crazy," said Michael McMullen, executive vice-president of Northern Canada for Northwest Company. Despite being closed for Easter during the same week in 2010, McMullen believes Nutrition North is responsible for the spike.

"Produce sales are up significantly and some of our perishable meat sales," McMullen said. "It will take time to adjust our orders so we will be able to properly meet the demand."

Gloux is upset about more than the available quantity of food, but the price as well. Five per cent subsidies won't make a difference when four litres of milk drops from $13.99 to $12.49, she said.

"I can order three, four-litres by Food Mail for that price," Gloux said. "Our Food Mail program worked perfectly. Ordering from Yellowknife Co-op two or three times a month made such a huge difference to our diet and well-being and cost."

Nutrition North does offer direct and personal orders, but the extra paperwork and high freight rates have deterred former suppliers, such as the Yellowknife Direct Charge Co-op, where Gloux ordered her food, from joining the program.

But even the direct orders with subsidies haven't lived up to the hype. Robbie Muckle, who manages the Paulatuk Visitor's Centre Corp. with her husband, has noticed a significant increase in freight costs for the food in the one week the program has operated.

Muckle's first Nutrition North order of lettuce, frozen vegetables, bagels, bread and cereal weighed 20.91 kg. Before April 1 the freight would have cost $11.31 per kg. Now it costs $26.56 per kg.

"The NNC program was supposed to be cheaper than Food Mail, based on the promise that healthy and nutritious foods could get into isolated communities of Canada a lot cheaper, therefore letting the people eat better," Muckle said. "How does paying $15.25 (per kg) more help get nutritious foods into the isolated communities?"

The examples continue. A $100 pack of meat cost $15 to ship on March 31. On April 1, freight cost for the same pack of meat was $58. A 50 lb box of potatoes was $6.82 in freight prior, $26.86 post. A 1kg can of vegetables cost 30 cents to ship North, now $1.27.

While the stores are getting the subsidy kickback, Muckle says the consumers will pay for it in the long run.

"It is far worse than the Food Mail program was," Muckle said. "I would like to see it either go back to Food Mail or see the subsidy cost be comparable to what Food Mail was for all isolated communities."

Gloux, too, would like to see the Food Mail return or the subsidies at least equal to what people pay in Yellowknife for her community. She also finds that Nutrition North lacks the variety in healthy food she could purchase through the Food Mail program, whether it is rye bread over white, pineapples over oranges or tofu over red meat.

"What the government has done is a sick joke on us. It will not make any difference," Gloux said. "The Food Mail felt like Christmas twice a month."

When questioned by News/North about the complaints of the new program, a media relations officer from Indian and Northern Affairs stated the cost of living in the North is high, and that includes food.

"These costs are driven by many forces, geography, transportation and national and global economic conditions," wrote Margot Geduld in an email. "Shoppers who are concerned about current grocery costs are encouraged to contact their local retailers or direct order provider."

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