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Food Price UPDATE: 2023 Review, 2024 Preview

I guess it’s just that time of the month. And the Year. A flurry of food price stories have come down the pipe in the past few days. And it appears we’re probably going to pay more for food again next year, in spite of government promises to reign-in the grocers…

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The latest figures from Canada’s Food Price Report 2024 are out. And the news is mixed.

“It’s kind of a good news, bad news situation,” said Kristina Kupferschmidt, a University of Guelph PhD student and one of the Report’s authors told CTV News. “The good news is it’s not increasing as much as it was last year – I know last year was a real crunch for a lot of people. We’re really facing an affordability crisis in Canada. But the bad news is [prices are] still continuing to go up, especially in categories like vegetables, meat and bakery.”

First, the good news – sort of…

According to the latest official government numbers, Canadians spent less on food this year than they did last. But that’s not an indication that food prices went down.

Rather, it’s a reflection of significant changes in the way consumers shopped and dined. We’ve been hearing, from every new survey, that shoppers have been turning to cheaper ‘house’ brand and bulk products and to save on staples. And they’ve changed their eating habits as well, avoiding higher-priced foods, particularly animal proteins and fresh produce.

In reality, food price increases slowed a little this year, rising by 5.9 percent. But they still rose more than the overall rate of inflation.

Now, the bad news

The Report also predicts that the average Canadian family of 4 will spend an average of $16,297.20 in 2024 – up $701.79 from this year. Here’s how the predictions pan out, by major food category:

Food Prices 2024 - © 2023 - Canada Food Price Report

What is the Report?

It’s an official federal government review and forecast of retail food price performance and expectations, by the nation’s top authorities on the farm, market and retail food sectors. The Report’s conclusions benefit from input from: the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Saskatchewan. They’re all homes to major agricultural and food economics programs – and think tanks.

In the past, their wide-based analysis has been pretty accurate predicting what food prices are doing. And can be expected to do in  future.

My take

First, let’s not forget that Canadian food banks remain in crisis, experiencing record high demand and record low donations. And, as a result, lower- and fixed-income Canadians are in a tougher place than most of them can remember being in before, at any time of their lives. A food bank dedicated to helping veterans in need actually reported that more than one client had asked staff about Medically Assisted Dying. They said they would rather commit suicide than starve to death…

In my humble opinion… The so-called ‘good news’ in the latest Canada’s Food Price Report is at best illusory. It’s obvious we still have a long, long way to go before all Canadians are adequately fed and nourished.

The next significant landfall on the churning sea of food prices and availability will be the release of the highly-touted Grocery Code of Conduct. It’s a federally mandated effort to ensure that Canadian food retailers don’t gouge consumers with excessive food prices. The grocers and the government have just started working on it, with the presentation by the big-5 supermarket chains of their recommendations. Now the negotiations begin. Just how much the government will get out of the grocery giants in the end remains to be seen…

~ Maggie J.