The price of food could increase by up to 3.5 per cent in 2019, an annual study of food prices predicts, but there’s good news for Canadian consumers buying meat and seafood, which are projected to become cheaper. Meat and seafood have seen sharp increases in recent years, but a shift away from eating meat to a more plant-based diet is reducing demand.
Canada’s Food Price Report 2019, an independent analysis produced by university researchers, predicts the price of meat will drop by up to three per cent and seafood by two per cent. But those drops are more than offset by rising prices in other areas, led by a 4-6 per cent hike in the price of vegetables.
Changing tastes ahead for food producers
“We see a clear market segment that is changing. Under-35 females are leading the way to plant-based diets and that is having a big impact on food systems,” said Simon Somogyi, one of the lead authors of the Food Price Report
It’s not just the women. Men are also leaning towards eating more vegetables and the very image of meat as the basis of a man’s dinner is changing. Among the baby boom generation, the trend is toward a “flexitarian” diet, meaning less meat and more meat alternatives.
Even Canada’s Food Guide, scheduled to be updated this year, is set to notice this trend, according to the Food Price Report. The report predicts the price of meat will spiral downwards until 2020, until food producers adapt to the new marketplace.
Effects of free trade deal, climate change
Most significant of the trade deal’s impacts is allowing U.S.-made ingredients in yogurt, cheeses and some other dairy products. Whether that will make a difference to the family grocery bill may depend on your grocer.
“Will it be passed to the consumer or will it be absorbed by the retailer? Most retailers operate on very small margins,” he said.
As consumers abandon meat in favour of vegetables “that increases demand and that increases the prices.”
Other factors also could affect vegetable pricing over the coming year, among them currency fluctuations and changes in the weather.
With the unpredictable impact of climate change, Somogyi is hesitant to say definitively how the weather will change, but El Nino, a warming of the Pacific Ocean, is likely to take over from El Nina and result in drier weather, following a cold winter. North America may have extremely dry conditions and problems with access to water that could affect growing conditions and push up prices.
“It has an impact on producers. Most of our produce we used to get from California and it is highly perishable and has to be shipped by truck,” he said.
Somogyi said researchers avoided trying to predict the exchange rate of the Canadian dollar against the U.S. dollar, but that could also have an impact on vegetable and fruit prices.
Concern over high vegetable prices
Abby Langer, a dietitian in Toronto, is concerned that a sharp rise in vegetable prices will cause some Canadians to eat fewer vegetables.
“Vegetables have been identified as a luxury item with that increase of up to six per cent,” she said.
Affordability can be a problem for middle-class families as well as low-income Canadians, she said, pointing out that price is an incentive and they may be faced with cheaper meat as well as more expensive veggies.
“People may make other choices if they can’t afford vegetables. Canadians already eat too few,” Langer said.
“Remember if you can’t afford fresh vegetables, frozen ones are just as nutritious.”
She applauds the change in Canadian eating patterns to more plant-based diets.
“People are really health conscious and that’s a good thing. Dietitians hope to encourage that.”.