The ‘new reality’ for meat lovers: steak sticker shock

WATCH: We live in a world where it’s inevitable that the price of everything will go up and in case you have noticed right now, the price of meat especially beef has been skyrocketing. Here’s David Boushy with how consumers are coping.

Consumers have been confronting steak “sticker shock” since at least the beginning of last summer as ever-higher beef prices have become a fixture at the supermarket.

Get used it. Executives at Empire Co. Ltd said Thursday the “new reality” for meat prices is one where skewers, kebobs, steaks and roasts are simply more expensive. Empire, the second-biggest grocery store operator in Canada, owns Sobeys and Canada Safeway among other grocery store banners.

The average retail price for a sirloin steak was 23.4 per cent higher in May than a year earlier, according to Statistics Canada.

“Canadians’ love affair with our favourite red protein is definitely being challenged these days,” Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Food Institute, said.

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Consumer changes

Beef retail prices have risen more than 40 per cent since the beginning of 2013, Charlebois said, as drought and persistent supply issues have inflamed prices across North America.

Higher protein costs are forcing changes among consumers, Marc Poulin, Empire’s CEO said. “We’re seeing customers downgrading to different cuts and adjusting to the new reality of pricing, especially on beef.”

MORE: 5 reasons why supermarkets want you to eat your fruits and vegetables 

Sobeys and other grocers are actively trying to mitigate the sticker shock by juggling promotions and bringing in substitute products, Poulin said. “We need to adjust merchandising plans to take that customer reaction into account.”

Cooling oil

He also said grocery shoppers in Alberta have dialed grocery budgets back a touch as incomes have felt the chill of sharply lower crude prices.

The comments comes as employment-insurance applications rise in the province, suggesting the ranks of jobless workers collecting EI is growing.

MORE: Facing leaner times, Alberta’s grocery shoppers ‘trade down’

Nearly 28,000 claim applications were received in April (latest data available), or more than double the number from last August when oil prices were just beginning their sharp slide.

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“We’re seeing a bit of consumer weakness,” Poulin said, pointing out markets in and around Alberta’s oil patch in particular. “There are some stores where you can see a weakness due to a lower level of oil activity in the north.”

WATCH: Depending on where you live in this country, beef and pork products are up by as much as 20 per cent from last year. Sean O’Shea reports.

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