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Wildfires, Pandemic to Drive 3-5% Increase in Food Prices


The COVID-19 pandemic, wildfires, and changing food habits will drive up the cost of groceries by nearly C$700 for the average family next year, according to the latest edition of Canada’s Food Price Report produced by researchers at four Canadian universities.

“We don’t expect a break at the grocery store any time soon,” said lead author Sylvain Charlebois, professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University. “This is the highest increase we’ve ever expected.”

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The 3% to 5% increase in prices will mean a grocery bill of $13,907 per year for the average family of four, The Canadian Press reports [2].

The researchers foresee vegetable prices rising by as much as 6.5%, with climate change the main factor. “Much of the produce Canadians consume comes from California, a state that has been ravaged by one of the worst wildfire seasons on record,” CP says. 

“Vegetables are where people are going to notice the greatest impact,” said Stewart Smyth, an agriculture and resource economist at the University of Saskatchewan, pointing to the combined effect of smoke damage and the ongoing impact of the pandemic.

“While the price of root crops like potatoes and carrots should remain stable, he said leafy greens and more perishable produce like tomatoes and cucumbers will be more expensive,” CP writes. “Yet some of the biggest price increases could be for vegetables like cabbage, cauliflower, and asparagus.”

Smyth also expects the cost of baked goods to increase by as much as 5.5%, largely because customer sales are steadily rising. “If we hold supply constant but the demand goes up, essentially we’re falling a little bit behind,” he said. 

The study points to the pandemic as the main factor driving up meat prices by 6.5% via labour shortages, frayed logistics, shutdowns in food plants and distribution centres, and shifts in customer demand. It says poultry prices have increased 7% since July, and that trend is set to continue.

“If farmers are asked to spend more on equipment and COVID-19 cleaning protocols, consumers will eventually have to pay more,” Charlebois said.