Pasta prices rising after Alberta durum wheat crops hurt by summer drought

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The price of pasta is expected to rise at the grocery store and on restaurant menus because of a summer drought that affected durum wheat drops in Alberta and elsewhere.

In August the price of Alberta durum wheat hit nearly $500 per tonne. That’s 70 per cent higher than it was in August of 2020.

“If you got $12 to $14 [per] bushel once in a while, in the past you were doing exceptionally [well], but when it got up to over $20 [per] bushel, I mean, that’s basically been unheard of in our industry up until now,” said Lynn Jacobson, president of the Alberta Federation of Agriculture.

Milled durum wheat, known as semolina, is the main ingredient in pasta.

But not many Alberta durum wheat producers, the majority of whom are in the south, are expected to be able to capitalize on those prices, as southern Alberta and the Prairies were hit with heat waves and drought this summer.

“There are some people excited, some people disappointed. It’s all over the board and it’s all everybody’s individual situations,” Jacobson said.

“Some people got a crop and got a fairly decent crop or even half of a crop of what they expected on normal yields. With the prices, they’re going to do OK.”

Low inventory pushing up prices

The drought experienced in Canada, the U.S. and in Russia is expected to have an impact on pasta prices for consumers.

“Inventories are very low, which is really pushing prices much higher right now, and so for  processors, they’re certainly forced to revisit their terms. They have to renegotiate prices,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax.

“That’s why we are expecting some food categories to be impacted by what’s happening with the wheat market,” Charlebois said.

The Italian Centre Shop, with locations in the Edmonton area and one in Calgary, sells a lot of pasta imported from Italy.

Company president Teresa Spinelli said it’s experienced a 20 per cent increase in the cost of pasta.

“That’s very, very significant because usually when price goes up a little bit, we try our best to not pass that on to our consumers. We try to eat that up,” she said.

“But again, as the business world is getting really crazy and very global at this point, we have no choice when it’s 20 per cent and more. We’re going to have to pass it on to our consumers.”

Teresa Spinelli, president of The Italian Centre Shop, says the grocery chain may have no choice but to pass pasta costs onto consumers. (Travis McEwan/CBC)

Charlebois doesn’t expect a rise in pasta prices to impact consumer demand at the grocery store, as pasta is not typically an item cut out when consumers are budgeting.

He does expect more of a ripple effect at local restaurants that make their own pasta in-house.

“Low-scale pasta makers will likely be hit harder, obviously, because they can’t buy in bulk, they can’t buy volume, so they’ll be hard hit by their suppliers. Will they adjust menu prices? Probably,” he said.

CBC News spoke with numerous owners of Edmonton restaurants. None said they had experienced hikes in prices for semolina at this point, but they’re keeping an eye on it along with a potential impact on menu prices.



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