May 26, 2014 12:42 pm
Updated: May 26, 2014 2:08 pm

Chicken prices look appetizing as beef, pork costs surge

Chicken prices were flat in April, while beef and pork cuts saw retail prices at supermarkets soar.

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Prices on a range of meats are up substantially this spring across the board— or grill — amid a North American-wide shortage of beef and pork cuts.

Steaks as well as pork products like chops and bacon have climbed in most cases by double digits, Statistics Canada said last week (see chart below).

Salmon has surged as well — even the lowly wiener has seen its price climb well ahead of the pace of food inflation (up 5.3 per cent vs. 1.9 for food prices generally).

Amid the run-up in meat prices, however, there’s an exception: chicken.

The price of chicken actually declined 0.7 per cent in April, providing some relief to barbeque enthusiasts entering this year’s peak grilling months.

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Pork prices have skyrocketed in the wake of a virus that has cut a path of destruction across pig farms in the United States and to a lesser extent Canada over the winter, forcing farmers to cull livestock and limiting the amount of pork being produced.

The pork shortage has “cascaded” into other meat categories — namely beef — industry experts such as Loblaw president Vicente Trius said earlier this month.

Beef prices in the United States are also being pressured by the lowest herd numbers in more than 60 years, according to reports .

READ MORE: This BBQ season is shaping up to be a pricey one

Chicken prices have so far remained relatively tame, but that could be changing.

According to Kevin Grier, an agricultural industry analyst with Guelph, Ontario-based George Morris Centre, wholesale prices on cuts such as breasts have climbed 15 per cent this year.

While that rise is seasonal with wholesale prices comparable to last spring, Canadian chicken producers like Maple Leaf and Lilydale have begun pushing through price increases to grocery chains like Loblaw and Sobeys.

“They see what’s going on with beef, so they can,” Grier said.

Canadian supermarket chains have so far resisted passing the higher costs on, faced with stiffer competition from discount chains like Walmart this year.

READ MORE: Walmart is winning more grocery business in Canada

“They’ve shown consumers on the front page [of weekly flyers] expensive prices for beef and pork, and they’re deciding now whether to bite the bullet or not” on chicken, Grier said.

“They need something to bring consumers into the store.”

April retail prices for meat products. (Statistics Canada)

WATCH: Food prices are on the rise and consumers can expect the biggest hit to their wallets from the butcher. But the price surge also affects produce and seafood. Sean O’Shea reports.

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