WINNIPEG — Researchers from Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab analyzed Statistics Canada data from the past 20 years and found the cost of food has increased more dramatically than the cost of products and services measured by the Consumer Price Index during that time period.
Manitoba recorded the most sizeable difference of the three prairie provinces, with the Food Price Index gaining 16.2 points more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI) over the past two decades.
“When you look at Manitoba you basically face the same issue as the Atlantic, there’s not a whole lot of processing happening,” said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at Dalhousie University and director of the school’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “So that’s one thing you want to address as soon as possible. If you don’t process, you don’t control your supply chain.”
The biggest difference was in New Brunswick where the Food Price Index was 25.8 points higher than the General Price Index.
All provinces and territories, except for Iqaluit, saw the price of food rise more significantly than other products, with the Food Price Index gaining at least 10 points more in those 20 years in most jurisdictions.
Charlebois said wider gaps were found in eastern Canada. He said the reasons for that vary, between the lack of regionally-based food processing and the higher logistical costs of serving remote markets.
“As soon as you rely on heavy logistics to move food around, it can get expensive,” he said.
Charlebois said there are many different factors, including labour costs and trade, that can cause the price of certain products to rise. In the past 20 years, he said the largest increases have been in baby food, followed by meat and then potatoes.
When compared to people’s incomes Charlebois said the price of food remains relatively cheap in Canada and across North America compared to other countries. But he said increases that go beyond the CPI can put some consumers in a tough spot.
“The problem we face right now is that the inflation rate is not following at all,” he said. “It’s being outpaced by food inflation and so when that happens you’re likely to see more people not earning as much as they used, so food will cost more relative to their income.”
He said over time the pandemic could cause further food price increases but he said there’s another change that could be problematic for consumers: Walmart Canada is ending its Ad Match program as of Oct. 15.
“I think we’re actually on the verge of a huge paradigm shift as Canadian consumers,” he said. “We’re all bargain hunters, we’re hardwired to look for bargains.”
“I think it’s going to be okay to pay more for food down the road but at the same time some people are going to be left behind.”
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