Price of beef, vegetables increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic

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The retail industry is seeing some changes in sales now that Canadians are spending more time at home or in the great outdoors due to COVID-19 restrictions. Matthew Conrod takes a look at what people are buying during the pandemic. – Sep 16, 2020

If you’ve kept a close eye on your grocery bill over the past few months of COVID-19 safety measures, you may have noticed certain items are becoming more expensive.

“We’ve seen prices increase since the beginning of the year really — even before COVID — especially at the meat counter,” Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, said.

“Things have calmed down now — the food inflation rate is actually not as high as it was at the beginning of the pandemic.”

“Of course the problem is the overall inflation rate, which is actually quite low, and so when you’re charging two per cent more for food and everything (else) is cheaper or not more expensive, then people actually notice that food is actually more expensive.”

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Charlebois predicts the average Canadian’s grocery bill will be up to four per cent higher by the end of 2020 compared to the start of the year — which he says is a bigger difference than normal.

“What’s more expensive since January are onions, oranges, carrots, produce — lots of vegetables are more expensive,” he said. “Beef is up about — depending on the cuts — on average six to eight per cent, which is what we predicted.”

Chicken prices are up roughly one per cent, while pork prices increased before falling to slightly below where they were to start the year.

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“Right now the biggest concern we have is with produce, for a couple reasons. We’re starting to see prices creep up a little bit and also the California wildfires are probably going to make things a little bit more complicated for food and borders for the fall and winter,” Charlebois said.

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“It doesn’t mean we’ll run out of produce, it’s just if you actually are to buy products from elsewhere than California, the importer is likely going to have to pay a little bit more for alternatives.”

Food Fare owner Munther Zeid said paper products have also jumped in price during the pandemic, as demand increased dramatically while supply was slow to catch up.

He says bathroom tissue and paper towels weren’t just hard to come by in the spring, they were also much more expensive — with prices just returning to pre-pandemic levels recently.

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Zeid attributes the rise in cost for many produce items to the increased expense of getting products to market. While the arrival of local produce in stores did bring costs down for customers, he says cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce are still retailing for more than they normally would.

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One item consumers may be paying less for these days is bread — which Charlebois said comes as the demand for bread drops with more people making their own loaves at home.

But customers can expect more changes at the grocery store as the pandemic continues in the months to come.

“This is not over — we’re going to see the food industry readjusting over and over again when it comes to choices, the amount of brands offered to consumers,” Charlebois said. “We are expecting fewer SKUs, so fewer products on shelves. That is the reality.”

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