COVID-19 changes consumer behaviour and affects food prices in surprising ways
The 11th annual edition of Canada’s Food Price Report forecasts an overall food price increase of 3 to 5% for 2021. The most significant increases are predicted for meat at 4.5 to 6.5%, bakery at 3.5 to 5.5%, and vegetables at 4.5 to 6.5%.
“Families with less means will be significantly challenged in 2021, and many will be left behind,” says Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, project lead and Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “Immunity to higher food prices requires more cooking, more discipline and more research. It’s as simple as that.”
The COVID-19 pandemic led to border and facility closures, shifting consumer demand and unemployment, as well as modifications in production, manufacturing, distribution and retailing practices to enhance safety — all of which impacted food prices. An oil price war and the devaluation of the Canadian dollar were also significant factors.
The 2021 Food Price Report has two new features this year. For the first time, the report is a cross-country collaboration, jointly released by long-time research partners Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph, as well as the University of Saskatchewan and the University of British Columbia.
This year’s report is more robust than ever, with national expertise and collaborations between economists and data scientists strengthening the accuracy and interpretation of price forecasts and reflecting the regional differences in the Canadian food system.
This year’s report also takes into account the diversity of Canadian families by calculating average food expenditure by individual consumer based on age and gender, rather than for an ‘average’ Canadian family. For example, based on a family including a man (age 31-50), woman (age 31-50), boy (age 14-18) and girl (age 9-13), the annual food expenditure is predicted to be $13,907 in 2021, an increase of up to $695 (5%) compared to 2020.
Last year’s report predicted the average Canadian family would spend up to $12,667 on food in 2020. Based on the 2020 inflation rate to date, this figure is likely to be closer to $12,508, largely because consumers ate at restaurants less frequently.
Food price factors to watch for in 2021 include the continued impact of COVID-19, the effects of climate change, the growth in e-commerce and online services, the continued loss of the food manufacturing sector, the national ban on some single-use plastics and the impact of the U.S. presidential election on food policy and the Canadian dollar.