Inflation: 1/4 of Canadians cutting back on food purchases

Amid soaring prices at grocery stores, a new survey has found that 23.6 per cent of Canadians have had to cut back on the amount of food they were buying.

The survey, conducted by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab in partnership with Caddle, was conducted between Sept. 8 and 10 and involved 5,000 Canadians from coast to coast. Over the last year, 8.2 per cent said they’ve had to change their diet to save money on food and 7.1 per cent said they’ve skipped meals because of the cost of groceries.

“There is this sense of desperation out there. Twenty-four percent of Canadians are actually literally buying less food due to higher prices and of that number, almost 70 per cent are women. So it is highly likely that children are impacted by what’s going on with food inflation,” Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab, told CTV News Channel on Tuesday.

The survey also found that nearly three quarters of consumers were changing their buying habits in order to snag better deals at the grocery store. Of the respondents, 33.7 per cent said they were using more loyalty program points to pay for groceries in the last year.

In addition, 32.1 per cent said they were reading flyers more often and 23.9 per cent said they were using more coupons at the grocery store.

Numbers from Statistics Canada released on Tuesday showed that the year-over-year inflation rate was at 7.0 per cent for the month of August. But while the overall inflation rate has declined from the previous month, grocery prices have risen 10.8 per cent since last year — the fastest pace in over 40 years.

“The food inflation rate has outpaced the general inflation rate for several months now. And that’s why Canadians are forced to adopt new strategies,” said Charlebois.

Some Canadians said they’re seeking deals at different types of stores. Of the survey respondents, 19.1 per cent said they visited more discount stores (such as No Frills or FreshCo) for groceries while 11.5 per cent reported visiting dollar stores more frequently to buy food.

In addition, 8.0 per cent of Canadians said they changed their primary grocery store in the past year while 12.9 per cent said they’ve started to visit more than one store. As well, 18.0 per cent said they’re buying food in bulk more often.

“Unlike 40 years ago, when food inflation was an issue for just a few months, Canadians are absolutely aware now that this food inflation ‘boogeyman’ will be around for a while,” Charlebois said.

The survey also found that 40.6 per cent of Canadians said they’re trying to waste less food now compared to 12 months ago, while 19.7 per cent are buying more discounted food that’s about to expire. Atlantic Canada had the highest percentage of consumers buying more close-to-expired food at 29.1 per cent, followed by the Prairies at 19.5 per cent.

“Seeing food waste reduction as the number one thing consumers are doing to cut costs is encouraging,” said Janet Music, co-author of the report, in a news release. “Consumers appear to see food waste reduction as a form of incentive, and not just a way to adopt a more sustainable way of life.”

Some Canadians (15.5 per cent) have also started to grow more of their food. Ontario had the highest percentage of respondents who reported growing their own food at 17.4 per cent, followed by BC at 16.2 per cent.

In addition, 21.0 per cent are choosing to buy more food from private-label brands such as No Name and Compliments.

Private-label brands are most popular in Atlantic Canada, where 27.8 per cent said they were buying more store-brand food, followed by Quebec at 22.5 per cent.

Last Friday, the Canadian dollar also dropped to its lowest point in two years against the US dollar. Charlebois says if the loonie continues to slide, inflationary pressures could continue well into the winter.

“If our currency continues to drop, guess what’s going to happen to imports? They’re going to be more costly because our buying power will be backed by a weaker loonie,” he said. “There’s lots of things that we’re concerned about right now and hopefully things will come down. But it is highly unlikely, unfortunately.”

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