Majority of Canadians believe food prices are rising faster than their income
An overwhelming majority of Canadians believes food prices are rising faster than their income and more than half plan to change their shopping habits in 2020 to cope with rising vegetable and meat prices, according to a survey by Dalhousie University in Halifax.
The poll conducted this month with the Angus Reid Institute found 53 per cent plan some form of changes such as eating out less, using flyers and coupons more, buying in bulk and eating less meat. Eighty-seven per cent of the 1,500 interviewed said they believed food prices are increasing faster than their household income.
“Clearly people feel like they’re falling behind with revenues, that’s for sure,” Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie, said by phone. “We didn’t expect that high a percentage of Canadians feeling that food prices are moving much faster than their own income. That was a big surprise. We thought it was going to be probably 40, 50 per cent, not 87.”
Dalhousie and Guelph University in Ontario forecast earlier this month that Canadian food prices would increase an average of 4 per cent next year, double the rate of inflation, adding almost $500 to the annual grocery bill of the average Canadian family. Their study cited cost-increasing causes such as climate change, plastic packaging, protectionist trade policies, disease and the customization of food options.
The factors have combined to knock Canada a few rungs lower on the food affordability ladder, Charlebois says, while societal changes that see Canadians eating out or ordering in more are also contributing.
The sentiment of not being able to afford food appears to be widespread across several demographic
“Food expenses are taking a much larger share of any family’s budget nowadays,” Charlebois said. “That’s not just because they are exposed to uncontrollable variables like currency fluctuations, climate change and unfavourable weather patterns, but it also has to do with our expectations and our way of life.”
As many as 69 per cent of Canadians surveyed were most concerned about vegetable prices that surged 15 per cent this year. More than half were also concerned about rising cost of meat and fruits.
“The sentiment of not being able to afford food appears to be widespread across several demographic,” the report noted.
Canadians are on track to spend half their food budget on food consumed or made outside the home by 2032, a milestone Americans surpassed in 2016, Charlebois said.
“More and more people are going out and they’re spending more per person when they go out to restaurants,” he said.
That wasn’t lost on people in the survey, which showed that 60 per cent of the people who plan to make changes in their food shopping said they’ll try to eat out less often. About half intend to use flyers, coupons and discounts more, 41 per cent said they’ll buy in bulk, 31 per cent said they’d eat less meat and about a quarter said they’d buy more frozen items to save money.
The survey also spotted regional and cultural approaches to shopping saddle some people with higher prices. Ontario residents are the most active bargain hunters because they deem price the most important consideration when shopping, Charlebois said. The no. 1 grocery chain in Ontario is No Frills, which is “bare bones,” whereas in Quebec the leading chain is Metro, which has a “labyrinth of smells and colours,” the professor said. British Columbia shoppers are also enticed by the experience over price, he said.
Charlebois noted that some apartments now come without spaces for stoves, and that while cookbooks seem to fly off store shelves, it appears more people are just looking at the pictures instead of cooking themselves.
“Our way of life is changing, the way we consume food is changing, our expectations are changing so that our pursuit of convenience is actually going to be costing us,” the professor said. “If people want to save money, they’re going to have to make a compromise along the way.”