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Food Prices ‘Down Slightly’: State Of The Grocery Basket

The latest official numbers from Statistics Canada reveal that food prices have stabilized – even pulled back a bit from record highs reached last year. But the average supermarket shopper has felt no real relief. Where do we stand with high food prices?

Food Prices - © 2024 - March - tats CanadaA turning point?

Statistics Canada has unveiled new figures for this past March showing that food prices have at least stabilized. In some cases, they have fallen back from record highs reached the same month one year before. It looks like a bona fide turning point in the food price crisis. But will the price index remain stable? Will prices drop back further, toward their pre-COVID levels?

‘Only time will tell’ is a sad, sorry, lame old excuse for an answer to those critical questions. But that’s pretty much the way things are. Consumers have learned, over the past few years to cherish no expectations about where food prices are going.

What’s going on?

“Consumers are retreating. They’re just not spending the same amount of money at the grocery store,” Canada’s Food Guy Prof. Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax, told CBC News.

“We are seeing food sales stagnating while the population is growing. That’s a bad sign for grocers, for sure. To actually get people back in stores you need to revisit your pricing strategy, and that’s exactly what’s going on right now.”

How are shoppers coping?

Charlebois says consumers have been making more strategic choices with respect to brand preferences, food types and processed and prepared foods.

Folks have learned to shop the specials, settle for house brands and No-Name labels, and use more canned and frozen veggies to make ends meet.

The trend is showing up most dramatically at the meat counter, where shoppers have been staying away in drives. Charlebois notes, supermarket profit margins on meat can be as high as 40 percent. By contrast, margins on packaged goods may be as low as 5 percent.

On the other hand, Chicken Beef and Pork prices are among those that have moderated most dramatically over the period the new numbers cover.

My take

Well-situated observers such as Charlebois predicted the changes in shopping habits and prefer-ences way back when food price inflation first became critical. It’s comforting, in a way, to confirm they were right.

I just wish they had been able to make as accurate predictions about where food prices were going – and when!

~ Maggie J.

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