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Pair of Atlantic Canada food industry titans weigh in on food insecurity

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A pair of Atlantic Canada’s food industry titans took part in a luncheon Wednesday to discuss the current state of food insecurity.

Maple Leaf Foods executive chair Michael McCain and co-CEO of Mrs. Dunsters Inc. Blair Hyslop joined Greener Village CEO Alex Boyd for a candid talk on food insecurity Wednesday at a sold out luncheon in Hanwell, N.B.

The focus of the chat was to shed light on food security as a whole, poverty reduction, and the economic implications of the challenges for New Brunswickers.

One in five Canadians (and slightly more in New Brunswick) are food insecure, and the industry titans say it is on everyone as a collective to solve the issue.

“In the short term what we can do is support our food relief and food charity programs to help bridge us from where we are today to where we need to be in answers that address the underlying causes of food security,” says McCain.

Part of the growing food insecurity issue is related to the high price of food at grocery stores. For the month of May, thousands of Canadians are taking part in a boycott of Loblaws-owned stores in an effort to force the big box chain to lower its prices.

While some grocers and suppliers have argued on who is to blame for the high costs, McCain says neither are the cause or the cure for food insecurity.

“It’s not a Canadian issue, it’s not a New Brunswick issue, and it’s a global issue,” he says “Those food inflation issues contribute to the problems but they are not the only systemic problem that’s contributing to the outrageous issues we have with food insecurity.”

McCain says his company is trying to provide as many value options to consumers as they can given the market. Hyslop is doing the same, but says global market prices make it difficult.

“Our flour costs are, I can’t even tell you, tripled, quadrupled in the last three or four years,” he says. “The cost of sugar has gone up, the cost of lard has gone up, all of the packaging. For the last two or three years it seems every week you get cost increases on the other side, so as a consequence we have to put our prices up to compensate just to catch up.”

Hyslop says his business, among others, has been in “defence” mode over the last few years to survive from the pandemic’s ripple effects. He says it has been a lot of work trying to figure out how to price his product, but he is hopeful things are about to even out a bit.

“Some of the commodities have started to level off so we may see some softening,” Hyslop says. “But we are never going to be where we were because energy costs and labour costs aren’t going to go back to where they were.”

A big part of the luncheon also included the unveiling of the Greener Village’s THRIVE Campaign, which aims to build the region’s first Perishable Food Rescue Centre in Fredericton.

The fundraising goal is $6.3 million, with nearly $4.6 million already raised to get the project across the finish line by the fall. The province chipped in nearly $1 million to support the initiative.

“It is something we have been working hard on for a long time to get there,” says Boyd. “To be able to share that with the general public is really exciting because it means our food rescue centre is that much closer to becoming a reality so we are pretty excited.”

Boyd notes food security is not a situation that can be solved alone and it will take a collective effort to make an impact. 

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