Dr. Sylvain Charlebois
Retail food has increased by 11 per cent in one year, according to Statistics Canada.
What are some Canadians doing about it? 15.5 per cent of Canadians have started growing their own food, just in the last year.
Canadians have been trying to cope with higher food and menu prices in many ways.
Ontario saw the highest percentage of people who started to grow their own food, at 17.4 %. While a total of 6.2 % of Canadians use hydroponics at home to grow food, 4.5 % claim they have livestock at home now, and didn’t 12 months ago. The figures from a study conducted by the Dalhousie University Agri-Food Analytics Lab, investigated how Canadian consumers are dealing with higher food prices in the last year.
Others are just trying to navigate through by using new options. The most popular grocery shopping habit change we measured was that many Canadians have used loyalty program points. A total of 33.7% have been using loyalty program points to pay for groceries in the last 12 months. The second option is weekly flyers (32.1 %), followed by coupons (23.9 %).
While 19.1 % of Canadians have visited discount stores in the last 12 months, 11.5% of Canadians have visited dollar stores more often to purchase food. A total of 8 % are visiting farmers markets more often, and 7.1 % of consumers visited roadside stands to buy directly from farmers in the last year.
Interestingly, a total of 40.6 % of Canadians are trying to waste less food now, a much higher rate than 12 months ago. Going for privately labelled food products is also getting more popular. A total of 21.0 % of Canadians are opting for store labels, which are less expensive most of the time. The Atlantic region is where the highest percentage of consumers are now opting for privately labelled products, at 27.8 %, followed by Quebec at 22.5 %. Also, 19.7 % of Canadians are buying more food that is about to expire. The Atlantic has the highest percentage of consumers buying food that is about to expire at 29.1 %, followed by the Prairies at 19.5 %.
The hidden darker side of food inflation is worrisome. Almost 24 % of Canadians are now cutting back on the amount of food they purchase due to higher food inflation, and almost 70 % of them are women. Dietary changes have been made by 8.2 % just to save money. While a total of 7.1 % are skipping meals now, 6.6 % of Canadians are paying for their groceries with a credit card without knowing when they will be able to pay it back. Other measures are also being followed by Canadians. Coping with food inflation is not a simple matter of finding new strategies. For many, higher food prices have pushed them toward desperation.
Many Canadians are really battling it out there. In Europe, where food inflation in some regions is even higher then here, grocers are guaranteeing some prices for certain staples, for a month or two, to help low-income families get through this. They are freezing prices on a limited number of important staples. These campaigns are all initiated by industry, not government.
Perhaps it’s time for our own Canadian grocers to sympathize with struggling consumers in meaningful ways. Maybe, just maybe, if they took steps to support consumers, the baseless accusations of “greedflation” would go away, if only for a while.
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is a professor and senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and co-host of The Food Professor Podcast.