Addressing food inflation at the national and local level

Pictured is a bag of peppers, a cucumber, and a container of cherry tomatoes.
Canadian families are feeling the crunch with food price inflation. Photo by Taylor McClure.
Taylor McClure - CIDI - KnowltonQC | 03-02-2023
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The federal Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food studies bills, government activities and expenditures, and issues related to Canada’s agriculture and agri-food industry. 

According to Kody Blois, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food, said the role of the committee, like most other parliamentary committees, is to “uphold the government to account, but also to hear from witnesses and different stakeholders, and be able to provide recommendations and reports back to the government.” 

With the drastic inflation of food prices being experienced across Canada, members of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food unanimously agreed to launch a study to examine the correlation between certain factors and food price inflation.

In an interview with CIDI, Blois provides some important information on the study and food inflation at the national level.

We also sat down with Gary Crandall, coordinator of the Brome Lake Food Bank, whom provided some insight as to how food price inflation has been impacting local citizens.

“Although Canada is better that other comparative countries, it is hitting hard for a number of families. Food prices are high, consistently over 10% for the last year,” said Blois. “(…) Ultimately, we hope to table a report probably sometime during the winter session, likely in March. We’ve had two meetings so far and the meetings have generally focused on having stakeholders and representatives from the grocery sector itself.” 

Blois continued to explain that the meetings were to “understand how they go about determining their prices and whether or not they’ve seen a change in how they go about pricing products.” 

“The testimonies that we’ve heard to date from the representatives from the grocery sector is that their gross margin in terms of pricing on food related items has not changed is the evidence they’ve given thus far,” he said. “When you think about grocers and their dynamic, (…) these are companies that have a variety of difference sources of revenue, not just the grocery sector itself.” 

Blois added that the grocery companies are pointing the finger at supply chain disruptions and higher prices in terms of fuel, food, and input costs, that is being passed on from food processors and farmers.

“We are going to be hearing from other stakeholders, so at this point to be able to say definitively that I have an exact answer as to why we are seeing what we are would be too premature,” he said. “We know that we are facing inflation across the economy. I think it is reasonable to assume that part of the reason you’re seeing higher costs is a result of the costs that farmers and the producers themselves are facing, and some of those costs are being passed on.”

With concerns about grocers “price-gauging” consumers, Blois noted that there is a “plausible element” as to why grocers are seeing a higher volume of profit. 

“Many people were buying food, particularly last year and the year before, from home. People were not going out to restaurants as often. I do think there was a significant change in terms of how consumers were sending money in terms of buying groceries,” he explained. “(…) You might have seen a higher volume of profit because there might have actually been more food being bought from grocery stores than in a traditional scene.”

Blois said that it’s important to also understand the “nuance and conductivity of the markets” when looking food price increases.

“If we look back over the last couple of years, I think a couple things are notable. Our supply chains have been severely impacted, and you’d say look that was two years ago, but they have still not fully recovered,” the highlighted. “We are globally connected, including where we source our food, so climate change is having a major impact on that, Covid has, (…) and we’re also seeing a change in nature of the supply chain in and of itself. That may be resulting in some higher costs as well in terms of product being sourced more locally.”

Blois continued to say that he believed there were various issues at play.

“Our committee is really focused on okay, once we hear this information, what are some tangible recommendations we can put back to government. That’s where our focus will be,” Blois emphasized.

Crandall, who oversees that Brome Lake Food Bank, said that people are coming to the food bank now more than ever before.

He emphasized that the food bank is “lucky” to receive the support it does from the community. 

“The organizations, the family counter, businesses, a lot of individuals, make regular donations to the food bank, so we’re surviving,” he said. “But this is the 32nd year of the food bank and we’ve never had demands like we had this past year. In November, we gave out 65 cards. (…) We had food bank just last week and we packed for 59 requests. Since then, we’ve had three emergencies.”

Crandall highlighted the dire situation of some of the individuals that call in for an emergency. 

“Sometimes they don’t have anything. Sometimes they don’t even have a pan to cook in and all that sort of thing,” he added. 

Crandall said that there are a lot of people in Brome Lake that do need help and that they are appreciative when they come to pick up their cards or their food. 

“Some of the perennials, we’ve talked to them, and they said ‘we could get along without the food bank, we wouldn’t get along as well, but we know that we are going to get certain things at the food bank so that frees up money we can use to buy other things.’ Now, with the price of vegetables, milk, especially for family, it’s terrible,” he explained. “We’re there to help as much as we can.”

The Brome Lake food bank serves Knowlton, Brome, and West Bolton. Monthly food distribution takes place on the third Friday of each month. 

Call 450-242-2020 and choose extension 319 if in need of this service.

For the meetings and minutes of the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Agri-Food click here.

CIDI also reached out to the Competition Bureau of Canada, an independent law enforcement agency that protects and promotes competition for the benefit of Canadian consumers and businesses, but they declined to comment. They did, however, agree to provide written responses to our questions. 

To hear about what the bureau has to say on food price inflation, listen to the full interview below: