Alberta News

Food prices increasing in 2021

Canada’s food prices are expected to increase in 2021 by three to five per cent, with meat, vegetables and baked goods to increase the most. (Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

By Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter/Strathmore Times

Household budgets could face additional strain in 2021, when food prices are predicted to rise.

Canada’s Food Price Report 2021, a yearly report conducted by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, forecasts an overall food price of three to five per cent for 2021.

Based on these predictions, annual food expenditure for a family of four is predicted to be $13,807, an increase of $695 from 2020.

In dollars, this is the largest predicted increase in the 11-year history of the report. However, Alberta’s situation is expected to be better than other areas of the country, as this province had a below-average expected food price increase in 2020, and again in 2021.

The food items with the greatest predicted increase are meat (4.5 to 6.5 per cent increase), vegetables (4.5 to 6.5 per cent increase) and baked goods (3.5 to 5.5 per cent increase). 

Meat prices increased more than predicted in 2020. The anticipated increase in the 2020 report was four to six per cent, while the actual result between October 2019 and September 2020 was 6.1 per cent.

This year, the entire agri-food chain has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, affecting prices. Supply chains both in Canada and internationally have been “severely disrupted,” said Bow River MP Martin Shields.

Border closures affected labour availability, explained Shields. 

“In the case of B.C., for example, there were not a lot of people available to pick cherries, right on down to potatoes in the fall,” he said. “A lot of fruits and vegetables were simply left behind because there just weren’t people available to pick them,” he said.

As many of those B.C. farms supply local stores, prices were affected here. 

“When you have less supply, there’s going to be a cost-factor associated with that shortage,” noted Shields.

Numerous facilities also closed, such as the meat processing plants that were shut down over the spring and summer in Alberta due to outbreaks of the virus. Also, consumer demand and employment have changed and new safety protocols, production, manufacturing, distribution and retailing practices have shifted, according to the report.

The result of these impacts will be more expensive food and less variety, said Shields. “That’s going to be tough.”

While the pandemic has affected these food chains, Canadians should still have confidence in their food supply. 

“Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world that has, over the past 10 months, shown just how resilient it is when it comes to responding in an efficient and timely fashion to ensure that consumers are guaranteed a constant provision of safe, nutritious food products,” said Dr. Stuart Smyth, project co-lead and industry funded research chair in agri-food innovation at the University of Saskatchewan.

Other factors that could affect food prices include climate change, the growth of e-commerce and online services, loss of the food manufacturing sector, the nation’s single-use plastic ban, and the impact of the U.S. presidential election on food policy and the Canadian dollar, according to the report.