A quarter-century glimpse at valley groceries

If you paid $6.59 per kilogram of ham and 77 cents a pound for tomatoes, chances are your shopping trip took place in 1988.

If you paid $6.59 per kilogram of ham and 77 cents a pound for tomatoes, chances are your shopping trip took place in 1988.

Using the August 10, 1988 edition of the Lake Windermere Valley Echo as a guide, the Valley Echo looked at grocery prices in the valley 25 years ago, and found that while many items were sold at about half of the current prices, some costs remain surprisingly similar.

Ham has nearly doubled in price, now costing $12.50 per kilogram. Along with tropical produce, products such as energy drinks, water bottles, sushi, Mexican food, many snacks, and seafood were either very hard to find or non-existent in valley stores in the 1980s.

International produce was a luxury unavailable for most of the year — kiwifruit was hard to find, and there was one fruit that was only on sale during a special time of year.

“Mandarin oranges meant it was almost Christmas time, but now you can eat them any time,” said Windermere Valley Museum curator J.D. Jeffrey, who graduated from David Thompson Secondary School in 1988.

She recalls a loaf of unsliced bread costing 99 cents at that time. There were no delis in valley grocery stores, and Quality Bakery was the place to go for fresh bread, she said. Non-edible items were offered at grocery stores less frequently in the 1980s, as the industry has since changed to a format where most stores stock a broader inventory.

“If you were having a party, you couldn’t get much more than food at the grocery store,” said Ms. Jeffery, adding that throwing a backyard barbecue meant having to go into smaller stores to get cutlery, plates, cups, and any accessories for the grill.

The nature of advertising has also changed, as shoppers had to enter the store to find out what was on sale, whereas current promotions are persistently advertised in flyers.

“You would go to the store and feel lucky if you found an item on special – you wouldn’t know beforehand,” she said.

While the price of some groceries have risen faster than the rate of inflation — 172 per cent for  goods and services over the last 25 years, according to the Bank of Canada — grocery stores in the valley today offer much greater service than they did in the late 1980s.

Self-serve checkout lanes in valley stores were totally unheard of in 1988, but they’re now here to stay — though not a replacement for the service one can expect from a cashier, said Invermere Sobeys store owner Brad Bromley.

“We try to create the best customer service experience, and those check-out lanes are basically just for people in a really big hurry,” he said of the four self check-out tills in his store. “If there was a change to be made, I would say it would be a decrease,” he added.

Mr. Bromley anticipates a growing trend for meal accessories to be sold within Sobeys.

“We’re trying to make things easier for the consumer to prepare food, and give them different ideas on how to prepare it, and I think we’ll probably see more heading into the future,” he said.

A grocery trend more recent than in-store delis and bakeries is the rise of gluten-free products, which AG Foods co-owner Eric Lapointe said is something that’s likely here to stay.

“We try very much to cater to the people who have allergies,” he said. “Some products come in, and they’re here and then they’re gone, but that’s not the case with gluten-free.”

Gluten-free products are the strongest emerging trend he’s noticed in his seven years at the local supermarket, he said.