We’re leaving the era of cheap food in Canada, according to a leading food distribution researcher also known as Canada’s Food Professor.
“That is what is happening now, COVID-19 is accelerating this pace,” said Sylvain Charlebois, who founded the Agri-food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
Charlebois said food discounting at grocery stores has virtually disappeared since the coronavirus pandemic began in March. He predicts a trend toward higher food prices will continue.
“We’ve been spoiled as consumers,” Charlebois said.
A year ago, Charlebois forecast a four per cent increase in food prices. He hinted that he will be forecasting at least that amount of food price inflation for 2021 when he releases his annual price report for next year in December.
Charlebois predicted grocers will shutter between 300 to 400 stores in the next year while bolstering their online grocery store offerings.
“If you are a consumer you can expect to pay five-to-seven per cent more, compared to if you went to the store to pick your own food,” he said, explaining the industry is struggling to determine how best to permanently pass those costs on to shoppers.
One solution is a fee for delivery; the other is an annual subscription cost.
“We are hard-wired to chase bargains,” he said, pointing out the challenges for consumers who are left to decide how to buy their groceries during a pandemic.
“It’s harder to find deals,” Charlebois said.
At a time when many Canadians worry about the price and supply of food, Charlebois said there is a serious shortage of workers in food processing plants: 28,000 jobs need to be filled, roughly 12 per cent of the industry, he said.
“The food industry needs you,” he said, calling on unemployed, able-bodied persons to consider a job at a processing plant, which pays in the order of $24 an hour.
Charlebois said that despite having fewer employees at various locations, there likely won’t be any significant product shortages this winter.
That includes last spring’s most sought-after commodity — toilet paper — which frequently ran out and was later sold only with limits of two in some stores.
Charlebois said he doesn’t believe there will be a run on toilet paper this winter.
“When it comes to toilet paper, we’re a sovereign country.”
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