Want to score a deal at the supermarket these days? Try a steak

Retail beef prices fell nearly 2 per cent between November and December, experts say.
Retail beef prices fell nearly 2 per cent between November and December, experts say. THE CANADIAN PRESS

If there’s any good news for consumers concerned about spiking food costs it’s this: after a sharp, steady march upward for the better part of three years, meat prices are starting to at last come down.

“Prices are softening at the meat counter which is certainly good news for those who are looking for affordable animal protein,” Sylvain Charlebois, a food industry expert and professor a Guelph University’s Food Institute, said.

Skyrocketing fruit and vegetable prices fueled a 4.1 per cent jump in price inflation at supermarkets last month, Statscan said Friday.

But in a sharp reversal from recent Decembers, meat – red meat in particular – wasn’t the leading cause. In fact, prices are actually down month to month by a percent or two for pork and beef, Charlebois said.

“That’s in December, when demand for meat is usually high,” he said.

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It was only last June when supermarket executives were talking about the “new reality” for customers, as shoppers confronted beef prices that were up to 25 per cent higher than what they were paying a year earlier.

MORE: ‘New reality’ for meat eaters — sticker shock

On a year-over-year basis, some prices remain elevated – sirloin steak was 14.3 per cent higher last month compared to December 2014 for example – but prices are headed in the direction consumers want, lower.

Supply climbs

Fueling the downward pressure isn’t a great mystery: flourishing supply.

In a research brief this week, BMO commodities economists noted “a larger herd” was adding to beef supplies (after drought decimated herd sizes in 2013). A similar development has been underway with hogs, which have fallen in price by a third over the past year.

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Those lower wholesale costs are – and will continue to filter through to retail prices, experts say. The price of a pork chop for example was flat in December compared to a year ago.

And with the cost of other imported foods soaring, lower prices on meat could be used by supermarkets to get customers through the doors, Charlebois said.

“It’s giving some room to food retailers to adjust their pricing accordingly,” Charlebois said.

WATCH: Statistics Canada reported Friday the inflation rate came in at 1.6 per cent in December, accelerating from a month earlier as food costs climbed higher amid the loonie’s sharp slide.

Click to play video 'Canadians paying more for groceries as loonie wilts' Canadians paying more for groceries as loonie wilts
Canadians paying more for groceries as loonie wilts