Food inflation is forcing Canadians to despair

While inflation is showing signs of running out of steam, food inflation seems to be following a totally different trajectory. Food inflation has exceeded our general inflation rate for over 12 months now.

Statistics Canada has just announced that the inflation rate for food for retail trade was 10.8% and 7.4% for restaurants. Canada ranks third among the G7 countries, after Japan at 4.7% and France at 7.7%. Canada’s rate remains lower than Italy (10.6%), the United States (11.8%), the United Kingdom (13.1%) and Germany (16.6%) ).

Canadians have tried to cope with rising food and menu prices in several ways. The Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Caddle, has investigated what Canadian consumers have done to deal with rising food prices over the past year and is releasing the results of the study.

Some chose to grow their own food. A total of 15.5% of Canadians have started growing their own food in the past year alone. The highest percentage of people have started growing their own food in Ontario.

Others just try to navigate using new options. The most popular grocery shopping habit change we measured was that many Canadians used loyalty program points. A total of 33.7% used loyalty program points to pay for groceries in the past 12 months. The second option is weekly flyers (32.1%), followed by coupons, at 23.9%.

Interestingly, 40.6% of Canadians are trying to waste less food now, a much higher rate than 12 months ago. Opting for private label food products is also becoming increasingly popular. In total, 21% of Canadians opt for store labels, which are cheaper most of the time. The Atlantic region is where the highest percentage of consumers now opt for private label products, at 27.8%, followed by Quebec at 22.5%. In addition, 19.7% of Canadians buy more foods that are nearing the expiry date. The Atlantic has the highest percentage of consumers buying food that is close to the best before date at 29.1%, followed by the Prairies at 19.5%.

The dark and hidden side of food inflation is worrying. Almost 24% of Canadians are now reducing the amount of food they buy due to higher food inflation, and almost 70% of them are women. Dietary changes were made by 8.2% just to save money. While 7.1% are skipping meals now, 6.6% of Canadians pay for their groceries with a credit card, not knowing when they will be able to pay it back.

Dealing with food inflation is not just about finding new strategies. For many, rising food prices have driven them to despair.

Many Canadians are really fighting there. In Europe, where food inflation in some areas is even higher than here, grocers are guaranteeing certain prices for certain basic products for a month or two to help low-income families get by. They are freezing the prices of a limited number of basic necessities. These campaigns are all industry driven, not government driven.

It may be time for Canadian grocers to sympathize with struggling consumers in a meaningful way. Maybe, just maybe, if they took action to support consumers, the baseless accusations of “greed” would go away, if only for a while.


Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agrifood Analysis Laboratory and Professor of Food Distribution and Policy at Dalhousie University. Troy Media

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