CHARLEBOIS: Being thankful, even at the grocery store

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Thanksgiving is this weekend. With food prices these days, we’re all wondering how most of us will cope. Our Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Angus Reid, investigated what Canadian consumers are planning to do with their menu planning over the weekend. In total, 1,503 Canadians were consulted on Sept. 30, for this cross-national survey. Based on results, while traditions are holding strong and appear to be incredibly important to many Canadians, we can also tell some families are adjusting due to sticker shocks at the grocery store.

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Many families will eat a variety of meats for Thanksgiving, such as ham, beef, chicken, and other great animal protein sources. But our lab only looked at mainstays and assessed how popular they still are in Canada. And those products have gone up significantly in price in just the last 12 months.

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Our estimates suggest that turkey, a traditional dish for Thanksgiving dinners in Canada, has increased in per-kilogram price by an average of 15 to 16% compared to last year. Potatoes are 22% more expensive compared to last year. While frozen corn is up 6% from last year, the price of bread in general has increased by 13% compared to last year. The cost of bacon and ham, which is popular in some homes, is up about 10% compared to 2021. Chicken has increased by about 10%; Cranberries are 12% more expensive. In dairy, butter has increased significantly, up 13% compared to last year. These are obviously only estimates as some prices will vary based on location, size of packages, and point of purchase.

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Nearly half (45%) of Québécois say they do not celebrate Thanksgiving, whereas roughly nine-in-ten in every other region of the country do. That is a remarkable difference. Among those who celebrate Thanksgiving, more than two-thirds (68%) say they will be eating the same meal/foods they normally do. Both Saskatchewan and Manitoba have the highest percentage of this group at 70%. Almost a quarter (22%) say they will be making some changes because of higher food prices. This is especially likely in British Columbia (29%) and Alberta (25%). Lower-income households, who earn below $50ka year and comprise 30% of this group, are almost certainly making changes due to higher food prices. About 10% of Canadians plan to make some changes just because they want to try something new.

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Turkey is widely considered essential for Thanksgiving dinner, with three-in-five (62%) ranking it as the number one most important food, and three-in-four (77%) ranking it among the top three. Stuffing and potatoes come in at a distant second and third, respectively, with a little less than half ranking each among their essential Thanksgiving foods. Still, results appear to indicate that many households do enjoy other foods for Thanksgiving, even if turkey remains a dominant choice. The survey did not include other types of meats. Pumpkin pie remains the most favorite dessert for Thanksgiving (7%). Interestingly, younger Canadians (18–34) are nearly twice as likely as those 35 and over to rank pumpkin pie among their top three Thanksgiving foods (38% vs. 22%, respectively). Regionally, apple crisp appears to be much more popular in Quebec than the rest of Canada.

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Eating homemade food and local food products are also popular at Thanksgiving. While 82% of Canadians prefer to eat homemade food for Thanksgiving, 51% prefer to eat local foods. In Saskatchewan, Manitoba, British Columbia, and the Atlantic provinces, support for homemade food is over 80%. For eating local, both British Columbia (54%) and the Atlantic region (56%) scored very well. Nice numbers for our cooking spirits and our local food movement.

We shouldn’t forget, though, that Thanksgiving is about family, friends, and food. We should be thankful for the bounty of our land and sea, no doubt. Despite higher food prices, let’s not forget that Canada remains at an enviable place compared to other countries. Our food industry, from farmgate to retail, works hard to provide us with safe, high-quality foods. Still, many are falling behind and are struggling. Let’s not forget about them. Do support your local food bank or food rescuing agencies if you can. Happy Thanksgiving.

— Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University

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