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Food prices are going up - here's how to cope

Even if prices are going up in 2022, you can find ways to mitigate the impact on your grocery bill, says Sylvain Charlebois.

Since 2022 is almost here, it’s time to reflect on what has happened the past year and anticipate what lies ahead.

Food inflation obviously affected most food categories this year, which is why the last 12 months have been challenging for Canadians, at the grocery store and at restaurants.

Canada’s Food Price Report 2022 was released recently by Dalhousie University, the University of Guelph, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia. It forecasts that the average Canadian family could spend up to $966 more on groceries in 2022, compared to 2021.

And a recent report by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Caddle, looked at what Canadians intend to do in the new year, with food and with other aspects of their lives related to food.

Almost 10,000 Canadians were surveyed on what they expect in food retail and service over the coming 12 months. The report looked at new year’s resolutions and how Canadians intend to cope with higher food prices, or if they plan to do different things with food.

The survey first asked Canadians how they think food prices are increasing compared to their household income. A total of 89.8 per cent of respondents said food prices are increasing faster than their income. That’s a high percentage.

Over three surveys, this is the highest percentage of Canadians believing food prices are rising faster than their income.

Regarding Canada’s Food Price Report 2022 and its forecast that food prices will go up by as much as seven per cent in the new year, most Canadians surveyed believe it’s too modest. A total of 60.2 per cent expect food prices to go even higher.

Some food categories are more concerning than others for those surveyed. Unsurprisingly, meat prices are a great source of concern. Two years ago, a similar survey showed that vegetables were the one category most Canadians were concerned about. For 2022, 49.3 per cent of Canadians are concerned about meat prices and 22.8 per cent are concerned about vegetables. Fruits are at 12.8 per cent and dairy products are at 6.4 per cent. Fish and seafood, and bakery products are the categories about which Canadians are least concerned.

But perceptions don’t reflect what’s really happening in the grocery stores. For example, even if produce prices barely moved this year, Canadians are still concerned about fluctuating prices for vegetables and fruits, as they were two years ago when prices did go up.

Many remember the infamous “cauliflower crisis.” When consumers are spooked, it leaves a mark mentally. Many still believe a head of cauliflower costs $8, but most cauliflower sold for less than $2 a head this year. Consumers should remember that food prices change almost daily.

According to the survey, 2022 will bring some changes. A total of 63 per cent of Canadians intend to alter food habits in some way.

The most popular intention for 2022 appears to be to use coupons more often – 52.8 per cent of Canadians surveyed said they intend to do so.

Given that menu prices will spike, not eating out as much is the second most popular habit change on the survey. A total of 51.7 per cent surveyed say they intend to avoid restaurants in the new year.

And 45.5 per cent intend to consult flyers more often.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been reported several times that shoppers are visiting new grocery stores or even switching their primary stores – about 26 per cent of us. That trend is likely to continue in 2022, since 31.9 per cent of those surveyed said they’re thinking of visiting different grocery stores.

The survey also asked what Canadians intend to do more of in 2022. The top resolution is to reduce food waste and eat more vegetables. The last time we conducted a similar survey – for 2020, just before the pandemic started – results were similar: reducing food waste and eating more fruit and vegetables were top choices.

Cooking more often is third on the list of food resolutions for 2022. Changing diets and eating more leftovers also received strong support, as they did in 2020.

Items new to the list since our pre-pandemic survey conducted in 2020:

  • changing the way meals are managed (15 per cent);
  • eating more fish and seafood (11.6 per cent);
  • gardening (9.3 per cent);
  • ordering food online (7.1 per cent);
  • ordering more meal kits (4.7 per cent).

The new top resolutions reflect how the food landscape has changed because of the pandemic.

Since 2022 will be the International Year of Artisan Fisheries and Aquaculture, seeing more Canadians wanting to eat more fish and seafood fits in well.

Happy New Year!

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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