“‘Shelflation’ is when the shelf life of food products is compromised due to supply chain problems essentially,” explains Sylvain Charlebois, Dalhousie University’s Agri-food Analytics Lab director.
‘Shelflation’ is a new term coined by Dalhousie University focusing on how Canadians are finding themselves throwing away more food and making their grocery bills even more expensive than they already are.
“Being in Canada it’s definitely an issue. We receive produce very late here and it’s picked way earlier right? I shop for produce every week and still it doesn’t last throughout the week most of the time. So it’s definitely an issue … and groceries are so expensive right now too, so it’s not great,” said Samantha Kasbrick, a registered holistic nutrition practitioner.
“You can either be forced to throw away a product before its expiry date or you may actually find some fruits and vegetables that will ripen much more quickly than usual,” said Charlebois.
For the first, time they asked more than 1,500 Canadians if they were noticing issues related to the quality or freshness of products they were buying. Only 42 per cent of those surveyed in Saskatchewan said yes, which was the lowest rate in the country. However, the overall national rate was a whopping 63 per cent.
“We tried to come up with a number – a dollar figure – and we realized that Canadians may have actually wasted over $500 million worth of food over the last six months due to ‘shelflation,’ which is a lot,” said Charlebois.
Nutrition experts say you can still eat healthy without sweating expiration dates, suggesting tips like putting your berries in glass jars to preserve them longer or rinsing fruit with water and vinegar.
“Our produce just isn’t as fresh, so I’ve always been an advocate for frozen fruit. It’s basically the same nutritional qualities so that’s not something you need to worry about and that’s a great way to stock up. And it’s more convenient and often cheaper as well,” said Kasbrick.
Even the machinery required to get food to shelves is being affected.
“Because of the pandemic the supply chain for everything has slowed down so if you need parts well you’re going to have to wait longer which is why we believe that the entire supply chain has been under a lot of pressure for a very long time,” said Charlebois.
The concept of ‘shelflation’ isn’t new. It can happen at any point because of labour shortages or snow storms. But this current extreme version of it may just be a harsh reality of pandemic supply chain issues.
“What went on in January and February at the border was disruptive for the supply chain even though food did go through they had to say go to different borders extending transportation times,” reminded Charlebois.
In the meantime, consumers should choose carefully when picking their food at the grocery store.
“It’s hard to blame anybody and frankly grocers are very much victims here because they probably get products that are already compromised but they don’t want empty shelves either. Empty shelves are bad for business so they want to put things on shelves,” said Charlebois.