A parliamentary report released earlier this week makes three main suggestions aimed at combating food price inflation. They sound simple at first glance, but implementing them may be more difficult that it would seem.
The report headlines three measures that it says should be taken to bring food prices under control:
Best Before dates
Surprising to some, but not alarming to others: The report says removing Best Before dates from food products could reduce food wastage and keep prices down.
“Best-before dates are wildly misunderstood. They are not expiry dates. They refer to a product’s peak freshness,” the CEO of Second Harvest Canada is quoted as stating in the committee report. “Eliminating best-before dates would prevent safe, consumable food from being thrown out and save Canadians money on their grocery bills.”
“Removing the best-before dates is more about how consumers accommodate food inflation and how they adjusted their behaviour to actually reduce the impact of food inflation,” University of Saskatchewan food economist Yang Yang told Global News.
Hand in hand with eliminating best-before dates goes a recommendation to extend the deadline for eliminating single use plastics. That would to allow processors, packagers and supermarkets to find the best recyclable and biodegradable replacements that will ensure longest product shelf life.
The gremlin in the food machine: Shrinkflation is the name most folks use for the food packaging industry’s sneaky practice of reducing the amount of product in a package, while continuing to use the same-size package and charging the same price. The practice is clearly deceptive in as much as the package size and overall design usually remain identical.
It should probably be illegal, but it’s not. All the food companies have to do to protect themselves from prosecution is to display the actual amount of product on the label. Even if it is in very small print. The practice is clearly deceptive in as much as the package size and overall design usually remain identical.
Nevertheless, shrinkflation is used almost universally to give the impression that food prices are not rising as much as they really are.
The parliamentary committee report suggests mandating standard package sizes and shapes, and standardized unit pricing to avoid confusion among consumers.
The practice of price fixing by grocery retailers to gouge consumers: Rather than making its own detailed recommendations on this one, the report defers to the ongoing efforts to establish a grocer code of conduct. The report also says initiatives to help producers access reliable labour and speed up automation efforts should be implemented.
A recent report by the Competition Bureau of Canada recommends that a windfall tax ought to be slapped on grocery giants if proof of gouging emerges. That ought to do it.
I’ve often said that Best Before dates are misunderstood by many consumers and result in needless food waste. I’ve more than once called out the food packaging industry for shrinkflation. Like I said above, it’s not illegal, but it should be. Any logical and reasonable measure to control this despicable practice should be considered.
And I would be glad to see supermarkets fined for price gouging. Alas, its times like there, when supplies and costs are in chaos, that nefarious businesses are most likely to take advantage of the confusion and gouge.
~ Maggie J.