The typical grocery bill has gone up 240 per cent over the past two decades — and it’s set to go up higher still, according to Sylvain Charlebois, senior director at Agri-food Analytics Lab at the Dalhousie University, who tracks the country’s food sector.
“Some will think that such a percentage is expected, given the effects of inflation. Perhaps, but the overall cost for other products and services in the economy did not increase as much as food did – far from it,” according to the professor, noting that the country’s food price index has been outpacing the general price index over the past twenty years.
Statistics Canada’s latest consumer price index shows food prices were the biggest contributor to inflation, rising 1.8 per cent (not seasonally adjusted) in August, compared to the same period last year.
In a new note this morning, Charlebois said that while the North American continent has been seen as the realm of discounted food for quite some time, the COVID-19 era and changing consumer preferences are putting new pressures on the food chain.
“As affordability remains a priority for the agri-food sector, quality, the provenance of food, and the ecological footprint that our choices represent bring their share of complexity and additional costs,” Charlebois said. “The demanding consumers that we have now become have plenty of choice, all year round. With more innovation, quality is also much, much better, but there is certainly a price to pay for that. As a result, the industry has been catching up to our expectations by managing higher costs and passing some of the increases onto us. It will only get worse with COVID-19. Simple economics.”
The economist was also the lead author of the annual Canada’s Food Price Report published earlier this year, which forecast a 2 to 4 per cent increase in food prices in 2020, bringing the predicted annual cost of food for the average Canadian family to $12,667, an increase of $487 over 2019.
Prices of key products such as beef have jumped 20 per cent since January, the analyst estimated. While some of the reasons for the price increase had nothing to do with the pandemic, the virus has not made it easier.
Canadians new found love for home delivery will also add to our grocery bills.
“If you do order online, expect to pay more. On average, including delivery fees, consumers will pay 7 per cent to 10 per cent more for delivered food compared to a regular visit at the grocery store,”Charlebois said in an earlier note. “Quite the difference, perhaps even problematic for those who are stuck home, for one reason or another. The disabled, elderly, and people in self-isolation are compelled to pay more. Optics may make things appear to be unfair, but the socioeconomics of home food delivery will evolve and likely become more competitive.”