These Fake Local Grocery Ads Brilliantly Skewer Northern Canada’s Surreal Food Prices

Driving home the crisis in Nunavut

If you want to pay $48 for a bag of flour, head to northern Canada. It might even come with the same cheesy smile that your local grocer promises in its own ads. 

A new public-service campaign uses dark humor to raise awareness of a serious issue: skyrocketing food prices in Nunavut, the large but thinly populated territory that, on a world map, juts out of the top of Canada into the Arctic Ocean. 

Three parody commercials by Calgary agency Wax for a fictional supermarket called Way North highlight the problem with the obligatory bad jingle and footage of grinning store workers shilling goods at costs so outrageous they seem impossible.

The problem is, those price tags are real.

In Nunavut, a week's groceries can cost the equivalent of about $430 (in U.S. currency) for a family of three. Food prices on average cost 140 percent more than elsewhere in Canada, according to one advocacy group. A government study from 2013 clocked items ranging from 20 percent to 287 percent higher than the rest of the country. 

The region is primarily home to indigenous Inuit, who earn an average income equivalent to about $14,000. Coupled with high prices, that often means people don't get enough to eat; indeed, 70 percent of pre-schoolers in the area suffer from this problem, according to 2007-2008 research.

The reasons for the crisis are complex, but key causes include the region's remote geography: Food must be shipped in by plane or boat, driving prices up. Traditional diets, reliant on hunting, have waned as caribou populations change their migration patterns due to climate change, and Inuit lifestyles are increasingly less nomadic and more entangled in settled cash economies.

Meanwhile, the problem of exorbitant grocery costs—too familiar among victims to even be called sticker shock—persists, despite efforts by the Canadian government and private citizens alike to mitigate them. Last year, one group of good Samaritans from Ontario gathered 60 boxes of food to send north, only to stall upon discovering that shipping costs would amount to about $8,500.

The new ads, and their relatable message, seek practical assistance—in the form of increased pressure on lawmakers, and additional donations—from Canada and the U.S. alike. With their surreal twist on familiar tropes, and copy like "Just like your budget, these potatoes are about to get mashed," they certainly succeed in getting the point across. 

In fact, the biggest problem might be that the numbers seem totally unbelievable. Then again, the campaign is smart to bank on that; in one of the better applications of Instagram in advertising, the Way North account features pictures of real items … and their astronomical price tags.

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