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Planning a holiday feast? Be prepared for the sticker shock, experts say

By Natasha O’Neill

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    Mississauga, Ont. (CTV Network) — Canadians taking part in festivities this month – whether for Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa – will likely find holiday meals more expensive, according to an inflation report and industry data. Some ingredients like eggs, wheat, butter, plantains and potatoes found in traditional dishes have been rising steadily in price over the last year, making things more expensive for those planning on hosting holiday feasts. The annual inflation was 6.9 per cent in October, Statistics Canada said in its latest monthly consumer price index (CPI) report. While overall food prices remained stable in October, at 10.1 per cent compared to 10.3 per cent in September, some key ingredients and items for the holiday season will be pricier – and in some cases, significantly pricier. CHRISTMAS Those who celebrate on Dec. 25 may have fewer cookies to give to Santa since butter (per 454g) rose 20 per cent year-over-year, according to a StatCan report updated Dec. 7. The table, which shows a comparison between Oct. 2021 and Oct. 2022, also noted huge increases in margarine prices (per 907g) which increased 40.4 per cent. “Butter is too expensive so I think you may actually be seeing the effects of tide-flation,” Sylvain Charlebois, a Dalhousie University professor and director of the school’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, told in a phone interview on Wednesday. Tide-flation, Charlebois says, refers to the increased cost of a usually cheaper alternative to a more costly product. This can also be seen in different cuts of meat. Lower-cost cuts of meat are increasing in price because the more expensive portions are even higher. “Tide-flation is alive and well at the meat counter for sure,” Charlebois said. Turkey, a staple protein around Christmastime for many families, is seeing a large price increase. According to Charlebois, who has access to BetterCart Analytics — a Saskatchewan-based web platform using prices from all producers — turkey inflation has increased by 20 per cent from Nov. 2021 to Oct. 2022. The estimates from BetterCart Analytics, Charlebois says, may not be seen for all consumers depending on the store they shop at and in which province/territory they’re in. Charlebois said BetterCart Analytics is estimating an 11 per cent increase in the price of cranberries this year. Carrots, according to StatCan, are up 18.3 per cent this year. Frozen vegetables, which many experts say are sometimes cheaper alternatives, have also increased in price. A pack of frozen green beans (750g) has increased by 8.3 per cent year-over-year. Due to unpredictable weather, labour issues and increased farming costs, Canadians will see an estimated increase of about 10 to 15 per cent in the price of Christmas trees depending on the type and place of purchase. KWANZAA Modelled after harvest festivals in Africa, the celebration on the sixth day of Kwanzaa has a feast, called Karamu. Canada’s African-Caribbean communities span different cultures so traditional meals for Karamu range from jambalaya to Senegalese thieboudienne, usually, one-pot meals filled with aromatic spices, vegetables like squash, plantain and okra and topped with rice. The holiday celebrated from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 honours the seven principles of unity, self-determination, collective responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith. Charlebois says squash is up 4 per cent this year, plantains have increased by 9 per cent and legumes have increased 8 per cent, from Nov. 2021 to Oct. 2022, according to BetterCart Analytics. Buttermilk biscuits, a side dish, will cost families more to buy and make, because wheat (per 2.5kg) has increased by 18.8 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. Yams and sweet potatoes have increased slightly by 3.4 per cent year-over-year, the StatCan website reads. Whole chickens, however, have decreased in price by 3.7 per cent. Charlebois says rice and coconut prices are the same year-over-year, according to BetterCart Analytics. HANUKKAH Canada’s Jewish communities will light the Menorah celebrating the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem from Dec. 18 to Dec. 26. Hanukkah’s traditional foods like potato latkes (pancakes) and sufganiot (jelly donuts) have gone up in price, says Cheryl Landy, director of community engagement of B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish human rights organization. “Our Kosher food bank has been heavily impacted due to the rising cost of inflation,” she told in an email on Wednesday. “We also had trouble finding all the items we needed to send out to our clients for Chanukah (Hanukkah)…Our costs this year were up by at least 50 per cent.” B’nai Brith Canada’s food banks, located in Toronto, which started in 2020 has about 500 clients and tries to bring traditional dishes to those in need during Hanukkah and other Jewish holidays. Potatoes have increased by 7.5 per cent according to StatCan and the vegetable oil needed to fry the latkes has increased by 10.5 per cent. Popular toppings include applesauce, with apples (per kg) increasing 5.4 per cent, and sour cream, made with milk which has increased 9 per cent for one litre year-over-year. Some families may avoid making kugel, a noodle pudding made traditionally for Sabbath, due to the increase in costs. Dry or fresh pasta (per 500g) has increased by 36.5 per cent in a year and white sugar has increased by 13.2 per cent. Kugel is egg heavy and so are the costs — for one dozen the price has increased by 8.4 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. WHY PRICES ARE INCREASING Experts who spoke with said there are several reasons why these foods have become more expensive. Increased energy costs, transportation costs and issues with labour shortages all play a factor. “For those products (including potatoes) that we produce in Canada, the specific reasons for price increases are largely transportation-related and labour (related) at various stages of the value chain,” Michael Von Massow, associate professor of food, agriculture and resource economics at the University of Guelph, told in an interview Tuesday. He said this applies to all food increases seen in the past year. Apples, which Canada produces in the fall, are more expensive in off-seasons due to import prices. “The Canadian dollar has gone down,” Massow said. “So even if the price hadn’t changed in the country that we are importing from, the cost will go up because the Canadian dollar doesn’t go as far as it did a few months ago.” The Turkey Farmers of Canada are experiencing increased costs due to higher feed prices. Maegan MacKimmie told in an email Wednesday, farmers have seen an increase of 25 to 30 percent for feed since the fall of 2020. On top of paying more for animal food, farmers are being impacted by Avian Influenza outbreaks, an often deadly bird flu posing challenges in Alberta and B.C specifically. “Some areas may experience lower supplies of fresh turkey, but we feel confident that the frozen inventory is adequate to ensure turkey will be available to consumers,” MacKimmie said in an email. Dairy prices have exploded over the last year, said Matias Margulis, assistant professor at the University of British Columbia in the faculty of land and food systems department. “There (have) been several increases over the last year (in dairy prices) largely to reflect the increasing cost to producers,” Margulis said of the Canadian Dairy Commission’s decision to increase prices. Increased costs in energy and transportation are the reason for higher prices on dairy products. “It’s very visible sticker shock on dairy products,” Margulis said. Experts said the higher prices are likely here to stay. “We’re living in a time of more expensive food, and there are no indications that (it’s) going to change anytime soon,” Margulis said.

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