Shopping for Groceries…in the Arctic

Shopping is a whole new experience when you live in the Arctic.

In most of the 25 communities in Nunavut, there is a NorthMart/Northern and a Co-op Store. Both are similar, in that they carry groceries, and a few shelves carry department store like items.
The NorthMart/Northern Stores in the Canadian Arctic have a big history. They are owned by the North West Company and can be traced all the way back to the first fur trading out-posts set up in the Arctic by the Hudson Bay Company in the early 1800’s when the fur trade industry in Europe was thriving! These outposts were small buildings where a staff would live and Inuit hunters could trade animal furs for other provisions like metal pots and pans, or other supplies like guns, shells or traps. I’m not completely sure of why, but many Inuit really don’t like this company. Reasons I’ve heard is that the Northern Stores have a monopoly in the North; they price gouge and treating employees badly. Not the best reputation…sigh.
On the other hand, the Co-op Stores are owned by the Arctic Co-operative Limited and because you buy a membership to shop at the Co-operative Store, Northerner’s reap from the benefits of supporting their own with year-end dividends. It’s generally a great company that does a lot for the communities in the Arctic. Some communities only have a Co-op Store.
The larger communities in Nunavut have other small independent stores; Iqaluit, Rankin, Cambridge, Arviat. In a smaller store, and some communities only have a Co-op Store.
To shop anywhere in Nunavut, is, er…an experience in scraping your jaw off the floor when you see how much things cost. Groceries are, on average, double in price. Healthy food is subsidized, so, it’s usually just 1.5 times the usually price you would see anywhere in the ‘south’ aka southern Canada. Fresh food, junk food, ugh, it’s all so much. A bottle of Gatorade here can be $6.99-$8.99, a large bag of chips is $7.99, a ready-made salad mix is $9.99.

This is one of those jaw-dropping prices. I love basmati rice, but, NO WAY am I paying $29.99 for a 4lb bag, when i can order a bag on Amazon.
On Amazon, a 10lb bag of the same rice is $44.97. I’d rather order it and wait.

Click here to Go Shopping at the Northern Store in Iqaluit with Olivia Young!

The reason WHY food is so expensive is because of how we get it. Food is flown up from major cities; Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg… and, however they are adding costs to food prices is sorta beyond me, but the stores claim, it’s due the weight and volume of an item. So, although a bag of potato chips doesn’t weigh much, its volume is larger than say…a can of pop, but a can of pop weighs more than a bag of chips….soooo, you do the math. They are both expensive, no matter the brand! Ha!

When I say groceries are subsidized, I’m talking about Nutrition North. It’s a federal government subsidy program provided to retailers and suppliers that offsets the cost of a variety of perishable and nutritious food items shipped here by air.
Recently, due to public outrage, publicity and due to food shortages, this subsidy has also been available to other grocery suppliers in both the North and the south.
Which means, I can order food from a qualifying grocery store or farm in Ottawa, have it shipped to me via air cargo and pay a little less than buying here, and the qualifying grocery store or farm in in Ottawa could collect the subsidy. Odd, isn’t it? But, I do take advantage of this to get better grade beef, a certain something that I can’t buy here, or to buy drinks for my teens at a much cheaper price. This type of shopping requires a lot of organization, you really have to have internet connection and online accounts to shop this way, you need a credit card and you need a car to pick up your shipment from the Air Cargo too. So, there are obvious obstacles and it’s not for everyone.

My teens choosing a treat.
Soda pop is as popular here as it is anywhere. But, a can of pop is about 1.5 times the ‘southern’ price in Iqaluit, and 2 to 3 times that in more remote communities.
This is NOT a 1L jar. It’s the medium size, 750ml
I order French’s ketchup on Amazon! It’s worth the wait.
No pickles in glass jars on Amazon…sigh…
Do I really need pickles on my burger? In the Arctic, sometimes you bite the bullet and pay the big price or do without. I do LOVE pickles on my burger.


2 thoughts on “Shopping for Groceries…in the Arctic

  1. Indeed, it is a privilege to shop on-line. It is true, many locals do not have credit cards that provide access to on-line shopping. In addition to on-line shopping a second privilege for consideration is duty travel. Why? Well, when you have the opportunity to travel south (includes Yellowknife, NWT) you can “mule” a lot of food back to Nunavut. This opportunity has provided my family with an additional $8,000 per year in food costs! Yes, $8,000. Put that into your retirement fund! Nice blog, Gail. 🙂


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