Meat sweats Experts divided on summer beef and pork prices in Canada

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If you treated your dad to a prime cut of sirloin this Father’s Day, you may have noticed a bigger hit to your wallet at the grocery check-out. But experts are divided on the extent of meatier prices at the butcher’s counter as Canada’s barbecue season heats up.

The mid-year update to Canada’s annual Food Price Report published by researchers at Dalhousie University is calling for the cost of meat to jump between seven to nine per cent by the end of the year — an assessment the report’s lead author suggests is on the conservative side.

“We actually went out and verified over 100 products across the country, and at the meat counter we are noticing prices increasing already by 11 per cent,” Sylvain Charlebois told CTV News Channel on Monday. “We are preparing to pay even more as the summer progresses.”

The report suggests some choice cuts have already spiked by as much 20 per cent since January.

Charlebois said the higher prices are due to low animal inventories, particularly for cattle and hogs, as well as grocers’ growing appetite for profit to offset lower prices at the end of 2016.

However, University of Guelph food, agriculture, and resource economics professor Mike Von Massow is not convinced the increase in meat prices is as significant as the Dalhousie report suggests. He sees the price spread between the top barbecue cuts and secondary cuts widening, but expects prices will stay flat on average.

“We react very strongly to the short term price variation, but if you look at it over an entire year, the increases are more moderate,” he said. “While we see some price pressure here in the summer when we are hoping to barbecue, overall I think that will diminish.”

Von Massow also said the shortage of cattle and hogs is “probably overstated,” noting that U.S. inventory is up slightly and Canada’s supply is relatively flat.

“There may be some short-term shortages of animals coming to the market, which will give us a little bit of a (price) bump,” he said.

Poultry was the only outlier in the meat aisle when it comes to cost, according to Charlebois. He is calling for chicken prices to remain stable.

FRUIT AND VEGETABLE FORECAST

The produce section could also become a more costly place to shop, depending on who you ask. The report suggests Canadians can expect prices for vegetables and fruit to jump four and five per cent, respectively.

“We lost a lot of crops in California,” said Charlebois. “Celery, lettuce, those prices have gone up as a result of too much moisture.”

Von Massow said in spite of some troublesome localized weather patterns, produce prices were actually lower between January and April of this year, compared to 2016. He expects that trend to continue in the near term as more Canadian-grown product arrives in stores over the summer.

“Over the next four months, we will probably see some price relief as the Canadian product comes to the market,” he said. “In the winter we are going to see price bumps because we are going to be transporting it further.”

The Dalhousie researchers had some good news for consumers. Overall food inflation is expected to be slightly lower this year than previously estimated, rising between three and four per cent versus the three to five per cent they called for back in December.

Prices for dairy, eggs, and baked goods are also expected to fall between one and three per cent, following previous calls for a two per cent price hike.

“If you are into cheese and milk . . . you will see bargains,” said Charlebois.

 

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