At the checkout of my local grocery store, I find myself holding my breath as the total on the screen climbs higher and higher with each scanned item. Even staples like margarine and pasta seem to teeter on the edge of unaffordability.
I’m not imagining it—these foods recently topped the list for highest month-over-month price increases. In May 2023, you could expect to pay an average of $7.46 for a 907-gram tub of margarine in Canada, up nearly 58% from the $4.73 you would have paid in the same month in 2021.
So, how much is the average grocery bill in Canada? According to Canada’s Food Price Report for 2023, a family of four will spend $16,288.41 on food this year ($1,357.37 a month)—that’s up $1,065.60 from 2022.
The rate of inflation reached its peak in June 2022 at 8.1% , according to Statistics Canada in its Consumer Price Index (CPI) report, which tracks the cost of hundreds of everyday goods, from groceries to gas. Inflation has been falling steadily ever since and it now sits at 3.4%, as of May 2023. The food inflation rate in November 2022 (11.4%) was the fastest year-over-year increase since 1981. Are we over the inflation hump? Not quite. Statistics Canada says that grocery prices increased 9% year-over-year since last May. For reference, the Bank of Canada aims to keep inflation at 2% per year, using the overnight rate, among other tools. Rising fuel costs, labour shortages and supply-chain problems have also made food pricier.
Another source of high bills at the grocery checkout: lack of competition among grocers. The Canadian Competition Bureau released a 2023 report called “Canada Needs More Grocery Competition,” in case it’s not clear. That means more new grocery retailers, and less restrictions for new stores to open up. The bureau observed a trend of “Canada’s largest grocers increasing the amount they make on food sales,” before the supply chain issues even began.
I’m not alone in my experience. Canadians are facing increasing food costs at supermarkets across the country. Nearly six-in-ten respondents (59%) in a recent Equifax survey said they “are using coupons and looking for deals more at grocery stores versus last year.” Just over half of Canadians (54%) are “cutting back on grocery shopping altogether.” And, alarmingly, a survey by the Canadian Hub for Applied and Social Research at the University of Saskatchewan found that almost 20% of us are eating smaller meals or skipping meals because of high food prices.
Is couponing something you do or would consider?
— MoneySense (@MoneySense) December 2, 2022
What’s the average grocery bill in Canada?
Food costs are rising—how much more you’ll spend will depend on your age, sex and location. Canada’s Food Price Report, prepared by researchers at four Canadian universities, tracks the annual cost of food in Canada based on retail grocery prices and restaurant prices. The average food cost per month for a woman aged 19 to 30 years old (that’s me) was about $297 in 2022. That’s $3,564 per year. Men in the same age group spent $529 more for the year, at $4,093 total. A family of four (two adults and two kids, aged 14–18 and 9–13) spent an average of $15,223 for the year. Older adults spent less on food than younger adults; in 2022, women aged 70-plus spent an average of $3,273, while men aged 70-plus spent $3,637.
Across all provinces, food price inflation from 2021 to 2022 averaged about 10.5%. Increases varied, from a high of 11% in Quebec to a low of 9.2% in B.C.
The report also predicts that overall food prices in Canada will continue to rise by 5% to 7% in 2023. Sigh.