How to Shop Local in a Time of Inflation

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How to Shop Local in a Time of Inflation

You know it, I know it, and it seems everyone’s talking about it—prices for everything are rising fast. In June, Canada’s inflation rate spiked to a record-breaking 8.1%. That’s an increase of 7.1% compared to the previous year. Those gas prices that seem to be going up every other hour? Yeah. They kind of are.

The local Seaport Market on a Sunday morning

These ‘growing’ pains from rising prices have been the worst for local, independently-owned businesses. According to one survey, 92% of small-business owners have dealt with rising costs since the pandemic’s beginning. The good news is that since our unfortunate record-smashing inflation rate in June, Canadians should be starting to see the light and the end of the tunnel. Slowly, prices have begun to return to normal, with the current inflation rate sitting at 7.6%.

But the fact remains, that supplies and services needed to run a business are still expensive and, worse yet, staying expensive. Of all Canadian businesses, 26% are seeing their costs rise by upwards of 20%. The situation is even worse for local, independent businesses, with “over 80% of small-business owners having increased their prices to counter inflation” this year. While necessary from the business perspective, the price increase has been unfortunate for most small businesses. As a 2018 study determined, high costs are the leading cause for consumers to pick other retailers for everyday goods over local businesses. And that survey wasn’t far from today’s truth, with real sales for Canadian small businesses falling by 1.7% year-over-year amid this challenging economic climate. Yikes.

I Know, That was A Lot of Numbers

You may be saying to yourself, “Oliver, times are tough. With rising prices, we can’t always shop locally!” And you are right. I am not writing to you today to give you a heavy sense of guilt that you need to shop locally more. I get it. When prices rise, shopping locally only gets more challenging. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop supporting local. Even with high prices, we can help our local community. 

And I’ve got a few ideas to help us out: 

Buying Local Isn’t Always Pricey… 

I know, local usually costs more. But hear me out.

I went out to the Seaport Farmers Market in downtown Halifax. They had the usual local treasures—handmade crafts, artisan plates, baked bread, and tons of local produce. So, with a cup of Laughing Whale in my hand and this article in the back of my mind, I kept a close eye on the prices as I walked down the aisle. Like most of us, I assumed the costs would be higher than major grocery stores. To my surprise, the prices were a lot closer—or at least they were to my eye. So I ran an experiment. I jotted down some of the prices from the Market and compared them to my nearby Sobeys and Atlantic Superstore. Here’s what I got:

The Market Grid

Item Local Price Sobeys Price Atlantic Superstore
Green Beans  Elmridge Farm – $6.0 / pound  $ 3.29 / pound  $7.3 / pound 
Strawberries Kennie’s U Pick Strawb – $2.50 / per box $3.50 / box  $4 / box
Body Wash Seafoam Lavender Body Wash – $14.00 / 1L Dove Body Wash Shea Butter Vanilla – $15.30 / 1L Dove Body Wash Shea Butter Vanilla – $15.30 / 1l
Olive Oil  Tuscan Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil – $22 / 1L Rich Taste-Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil – $17.3 / 1L Rich Taste-Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil – $17.3 / 1L
English Cucumber $2.50 / cucumber  $1.99 / cucumber  $2.49 / cucumber 
Note: Prices taken mid-July

You’re right. The Market was pricier most of the time—but not by much. Worth noting here that large grocery chains can afford to seriously underprice some items as that discount doesn’t even make a dent in their bottom line. The infamous “loss-leader”, get ’em in the door sales technique. And when this happens, it can make accurately priced local market fare seem arbitrarily high in comparison—when in fact it’s not.

And yes, my sample size is quite small—listen, I’m no scientist. But I do have science on my side! According to one 2022 study, local farmers were cheaper or at the same price as their corporate counterparts during the summer months. And the price doesn’t include; how fresh those items were, their quality was far higher than most items at Sobeys and honestly, they tasted better too! Prices for some products, especially in the summer and early fall, have slowly started to level. Take this opportunity while you can and buy locally! 

The Bigger Picture

Inflation rates have been slowly booming over time. This image doesn’t include the recent inflation rise, which exceeds our mid-1990s records.

Great! Prices are cheaper than the big grocers! Perfect… Right? Yeah. Not for long. These prices will only get steeper as winter comes along at local markets. And that cheap produce? Better say your goodbyes now. Most farmers don’t even have products to sell during the winter months. So, I concede that it is naïve to believe local businesses and markets will always have lower prices. Let’s be honest. They won’t. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with shopping retail; everyone does it.

But, again, higher prices with inflation don’t mean you must stop shopping locally. Like winter, there are some things in life that most of us can’t avoid. Got a birthday coming up? Break a plate washing dishes? Hole in your shoe? You can probably tell where I’m going with this—get your necessities locally! 

These items are more ecologically friendly, contribute more to the local community’s economy, and, with their higher quality, are less likely to break in the future. Yes, these local items are more expensive. However, part of the buy-local game is perspective. Look at it this way. Go to Quinpool Shoe Repair, and you’re looking at getting a shoe not only fixed but possibly coming back in better quality than when you bought it! Or, look toNothing Cleaner! They are a Nova Scotian business creating home cleaning supplies that are both locally sourced and naturally produced.

Find Deals Out There! 

But not everyone’s necessities are just food, shoes, and cleaning supplies. Inflation affects everything—from toilet paper to gas. Lucky for us, buying local is a game that, with a little research, can get even cheaper. Like buying from many chains, local deals exist everywhere—you just have to find them. Here are a couple: 

American Express Canada is currently offering a Shop Small initiative that gives cardholders $5 in credits when they spend at least $10 at up to 10 different small businesses. This can earn you a maximum of $50 in free money to spend at a local business of your choice. Just be careful. American Express charges merchants a 2.5-3.5% sales fee.

And Groupon Halifax is another company that shares and offers local discounts. By joining their community, you can save on everything from local concerts and Tae Kwon Do to Kayak Rentals and Wine tasters—all of which are sourced from small businesses within the HRM. 

And that isn’t all. To make your life easier, below are three other local deals you can pursue! 

Name + Link Deal Descriptions
Living Social Very similar to Groupon, Living Social gives a variety of deals to local (primarily Halifax) businesses. 
Discover Halifax Discover Halifax has a Buy Local Deals page with tons of buy local options. Many of which include options beyond just items. 
Park Bench Nova Scotia An expansion of Living Social, which shares deals for all of Nova Scotia’s businesses. 


Supporting Local… It’s More than Just Cash! 

Okay, but does supporting local really mean you have to spend money? Nope! For many local businesses, writing reviews, commenting on social media posts, and sharing their products can be just as helpful as purchasing.

How? For one, buying and sharing products can increase their business’s SEO (Search Engine Optimization). This elevates their business in Google search results, giving them a greater chance of getting more eyes on their website. Moreover, positive reviews matter to consumers. Why spend money on a product nobody’s talking about? As one survey found, of over 1000 consumers surveyed, “over 90 percent of consumers read online reviews when choosing a local business.” Your review matters, and even better, it’s free!

To support local during inflation, you don’t even have to buy their product now. For example, purchasing gift cards from your local vendor allows you to support a small business now, but go and get their product later (when prices are lower). These gift cards can be kept by you, or even made into an excellent local gift for a friend or family member!

What Now?

Indeed, you can’t always buy locally. Especially when inflation is like this. For some of us, not supporting our local shops causes an almost eco-guilt phenomenon—we want to buy local, but it can be hard to do all the time. However, as this article has hopefully shown, supporting local in a time of rising prices and inflation is possible, and not all about the money! So, be easy on yourself. Shop local when you can, and do your best! That is what matters in the end. 

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