Most of us living in Canada have had the luxury of taking cheap food for granted, perhaps to the point of excess. However, that’s about to change as rising food costs are predicted to be significant this year, perhaps indicating the start of a long-predicted steady upswing for years to come. The implications on your grocery bill could be dramatic and long lasting.
A Drought Disaster
In December, the University of Guelph released its annual Food Price Index. In it, they rather ominously predict that, “It is expected that food prices will increase steadily in the coming years.”
So why are prices expected to jump? Well, a lot has to do with the drought that affected much of the U.S. last year. Corn and soybean crops in the U.S. Midwest were hit particularly hard. And while that can have an impact on the price of your Cornflakes and tofu, the bigger issue is that these are key food crops for livestock like pigs and cows. If wholesale prices increase, the impact goes right up the food chain. Other non-climatic factors impacting prices include rising energy prices, currency fluctuations, inflation, and “geopolitical risks” (i.e. ongoing instability in the Middle East).
Maple Leaf Foods, one of Canada’s biggest suppliers of meat and bread (the company owns Canada Bread), has already been impacted. The company’s CEO Michael McCain has warned that, “we continue to face higher inflationary costs, as well as projected increases in flour and dairy raw material costs. We expect to pass on higher pricing in the first quarter of .” He expected that the company’s bread products, for example, would increase in price by about 10 cents each at the retail level.
Save on Service, Eat at Home
It’s almost always cheaper to eat at home than at a restaurant, particularly at table-service establishments where you’re going to add a tip on top of the cost of the food and drinks. As restaurants face rising costs for their raw materials, they’ll have no choice but to pass along those costs to their customers.
And it’s not just nights out at fancy restaurants that eat away at your savings. Say you spend $8 on a typical lunch at the office. Brownbagging your lunch twice a week will net you nearly $800 a year in extra cash on hand to spend on groceries. You can make a lot of homemade sandwiches, soup, or leftover pasta for $800.
Plan Ahead to Cut Costs
One of the best ways to budget your food costs is to plan meals in advance. Plan a weekly menu, and cook excess quantities. This way, you can save money by buying in bulk and bring the leftovers for lunch or freeze the rest for later.
Save even more on your shopping bill by using coupons, or perusing the flyers dropped off in your mailbox and stocking up on staples (like canned tuna, pasta, and your favourite soup) when they go on sale.
Eat More Greens and Grains
Growing up in a WASPy home, my meals tended to be built around the piece of meat on the plate. And while I’m still a dedicated carnivore, I now realize that it is possible to have a tasty, nutritious meal with no meat in it at all. There’s no better way to pare back your food budget then to cut down on the amount of meat you buy. The University of Guelph predicts that meat prices will rise 4.5 to 6.5 per cent in 2013. It takes anywhere from seven to 13 pounds of grain to produce a single pound of beef. You could buy nearly that many pounds of grain for the price you’ll pay for a single T-bone. I’m not saying you have to go vegan, but nutritionists recommend that if you do have meat on your plate, it should only be two to four ounces – about the size of a deck of cards.