Canadians can expect to pay more for their veggies in 2019, but they’ll be forking over fewer dollars at the meat and fish counters.
That’s one of the takeaways from Canada’s Food Price Report for 2019. The report was released Tuesday and forecasts what Canadians are likely to pay for their food in the coming year.
A collaboration between Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, this marks the first time in the report’s nine-year history that meat and seafood prices are forecast to drop.
The report’s authors suggest the dip in meat prices is due in part to a forecasted and continued decline in demand. They also “strongly believe” meat prices will continue to “spiral downwards” until 2020 as Canadian consumers continue to reduce or eliminate their meat consumption.
“Since we’re in Nova Scotia I think that 2019 is a year of opportunity,” said Dalhousie University professor Sylvain Charlebois, one of the report’s lead authors.
“There’s going to be a lot of consumers out there looking for alternative sources of protein, and we are expecting fish and seafood to attract more consumers by offering affordable prices.”
When it comes to vegetables, Canadian consumers are looking at an increase of four to six per cent in the coming year.
“Last year we were predicting the same thing and it did happen, unfortunately,” he said.
Charlebois said the anticipated hike in vegetable prices can be linked to climate change, with global agriculture expected to remain “highly vulnerable” to severe weather patterns. While El Nino will likely bring heavier precipitation to South America and Asia, he said North America is expected to suffer drier conditions which could lead to reduced water access.
“We procure a lot of our vegetables from North America and that’s why we’re expecting a hike of four to six per cent with vegetables,” he explained.
Charlebois, who specializes in food distribution and policy, said he believes a new normal has taken root.
“The new normal is all about fluctuating prices. At any given time, you can actually see price hikes become an issue, and every year there’s always a surprise,” he said.
Meat: -3% to -1%
Seafood: -2% to 0%
Dairy: 0% to 2%
Food: 0% to 2%
Bakery: 1% to 3%
Fruit: 1% to 3%
Restaurants: 2% to 4%
Vegetables: 4% to 6%
Charlebois pointed out that in 2014, a spike in meat prices “spooked” consumers, something he believes led many to consider veganism as they searched for alternative, cheaper protein sources.
Of course there was also the cauliflower crisis of 2015/2016.
“I think (our report) should be known as Canada’s report on the future of food, because it’s all about what’s coming up,” Charlebois said. “We always try to provide Canadians with a future view of what’s going to be happening from a policy perspective and from an industry perspective.”
Charlebois said while preparing the 2019 report he was happy to learn Canadians are becoming more savvy when it comes to their food shopping.
“Canadian consumers generally speaking are well-served by the food industry, but things are becoming more and more volatile and you have to shop around a bit more,” he said. “We presented some new data on shopping habits in that report this year. People are becoming more strategic and smarter about food shopping, which is a good thing.”
The report suggests based on a “healthy” food cart, a family can expect to pay $411 more on food next year when compared with 2018. That means an average annual food budget of $12,157 in 2019. That figure includes everything from groceries to eating out.
“We are also expecting food inflation to go up in 2019 unfortunately, but with gas prices as they are now consumers are getting a bit of a break at the pump right now with the average family saving $1,000 a year,” Charlebois said.
“It’s pretty significant, so what we’re expecting in 2019 is to see a transfer from the pump to the grocery store so people can spend a little bit more on food.”
Looking across the country, Charlebois said the Prairie provinces and in particular Alberta will feel a bit of a crunch.
“The economy is being hit right now because of oil prices and it’s quite dramatic in fact and so there will be less wealth in the marketplace and so we are expecting grocers to adjust prices accordingly,” he said. “We are expecting consumers to have access to affordable prices. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ll have the means to spend because we are expecting the economy to be a little bit tougher in that region.”
He predicts the Atlantic provinces will be in for “a steady as she goes sort of year” in 2019, while in Quebec and Ontario food inflation will likely follow the national average. In 2018, Ontario was the province that saw the highest increase in food prices, with a rise of 2.7 per cent.
“In terms of B.C. we are expecting that economy to go well again and … we are expecting food inflation to be higher than average in B.C. overall,” he said.
The report also looks ahead to what it expects will be the top three food trends for 2019. Those include revisions to Canada’s new food guide being published in 2019, the ongoing push towards plant-based diets, and the anticipated legalization of food-related cannabis products.
“So 2019 will be marked by the legalization of (cannabis) edibles,” he said. “There’s a lot at play right, a lot of partnerships being arranged right now, especially in the beverage sector, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.”
Charlebois said he believes the annual report is important because Canadians deserve to know what’s in store.
“It affects all Canadians every single day. It doesn’t matter if you have a car or not, everyone needs to eat,” he said. “I think Canadians deserve a chance to forecast or to have better understanding of what lies ahead.”