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What’s coming for food prices in 2021

Simon wears glasses that track his eye movements in a grocery store lab

Dr. Simon Somogyi demonstrates eye-tracking glasses used in the Longo’s Food Retail Lab at the University of Guelph.

2020 will not be a year soon forgotten, but 2021 is almost here and researchers from across Canada are looking ahead to tell us what we can expect at the grocery store – if we even go there anymore at all.

The 11th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report uses AI to help predict the trends on your food bill, is a collaborative project between Dalhousie University, University of Guelph, University of Saskatchewan and University of British Columbia. Here’s what they believe we’ll see in the year ahead.

Read the report

You’ll spend less on food service, but the price of the food you do buy will be going up.

Before the pandemic, Canadians were spending more money than ever dining out. While we shelter at home away from the virus, fewer of our dollars will end up at restaurants, resulting in some food bill savings. However, grocery prices will rise this year, meaning less money saved.

No matter when the vaccine arrives, grocery chains are gambling on you shopping from home long into the future.

Dr. Simon Somogyi, a report co-author and Arrell Chair in the Business of Food, says the adoption rate for food shopping online has been accelerated by the pandemic, and the more familiar we become with e-commerce the more likely we are to keep using it. Retailers have made significant investments in their e-commerce platforms this year, and that cost might be passed on to you. But they aren’t the only ones. With the cost of delivery apps cutting into margins, restaurants are likely to also increase your total as well.

COVID-19 and climate change

COVID-19 disrupted the food system in many ways, and while some have recovered or adapted, the pandemic isn’t over yet. The pandemic will continue to cause food prices to rise. On top of the virus’s impact, climate change continues to reshape the supply chain. Changes to the environment change where and how food can be produced there and those disruptions are reflected in food prices.

Greening your take-out will have a cost.

With new legislation set to roll out in the future banning single-use plastics, your takeout order will need to make its way to your door in something a little eco-friendlier than difficult to recycle black plastic or expanded polystyrene containers. However, if compostable alternatives cost the kitchen more, you’ll probably see that cost reflected on your bill.

Dr. Maria Corradini, Arrell Chair in Food Quality, says that unfortunately, consumer support to ban single-use items has waned during the pandemic, and so has support for programs that provide cleaned, reusable containers. This situation should revert once virus transmission through inanimate surfaces has been elucidated/clarified.

Tally your own food bill

Canadian families are more diverse than ever before, and with less dining out, the report’s authors felt a better way to give you a heads up for the year ahead was to change the format. This year’s food price report is calculated on an individual basis, meaning if you’d like to know what your household’s budget will be for 2021, add up your family based on age and genders.

Read the report

What this means for food security in Canada

“Given the increase in food costs, especially vegetables and meat, we can expect that the number of families experiencing food insecurity will increase in 2021,” says Dr. Jess Haines, a co-author on the report. “Thus, it is critical that governments continue to work to identify effective approaches to ensure all Canadians have sufficient income to access nutritious foods. While the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) helped mitigate some of the hardships experienced among families and individuals who lost their income due to COVID-19, we will need permanent solutions so that all families have access to healthy foods.”