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How food prices will affect Canadians' holiday menus

Agri-Food Analytics Lab says the high cost of holiday meals will have some people forging new food traditions
holiday groceries 2023

Canadians may be looking to trim the cost of their holiday meals this December. 

According to Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, indulging in holiday foods will be an expensive proposition. Data from the lab shows that a traditional turkey-based Christmas meal for a group of four to six people will cost consumers $104.85 on average.

While record-high food inflation is starting to come down, traditional holiday items still have higher prices. For example, turkey is up 5%, potatoes are up 6.6% and carrots are up 12.8%. 

The nearly $105 price tag “is a lot for a family of four for one meal,” says Janet Music, research program coordinator at Agri-Food Analytics Lab. And while the meal may yield leftovers, she adds it’s a big upfront cost. 

Because of high prices, the researchers expect to see some Canadians moving away from turkey and choosing alternative proteins to share with family and friends. On the high side, the cost per serving of a turkey dinner is $12.77, compared to a salmon dinner at $10.93, ham dinner at $8.30, roast beef dinner at $8.27 and chicken dinner at $7.76. 

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A price comparison chart

However, Turkey Farmers of Canada (TFC) tell Canadian Grocer that, given the meals, these numbers illustrate turkey is the most economical choice on a cost per serving basis, with turkey at 11% of the total meal cost, compared to chicken at 13.6%, ham at 19.3%, beef at 19.0%, and Salmon at 38.7%.

"Choosing turkey for the holidays is a very economical option. On review of current retail turkey costs, prices are the same or slightly higher than last year. While prices vary by retailer, across Canada, consumers can find turkey priced at $1.98-$2.49 lb. If consumers choose a larger whole turkey, leftovers are a great way to have several meals from one turkey purchase or provide a meal for a larger group. A 13.0 lb or 6.0 kg turkey costing between $26.00 and $32.00 will feed approximately 13 adults. Turkey products are available at higher price points; however, these are typically specialty or pre-cooked turkeys that come with a premium cost," Phil Boyd, executive director of TFC, says. "We are confident that consumers can enjoy the turkey they want, at the price they want, for the holiday season this year."

Of course, some people would pass on the turkey anyway, given Canadians’ wide variety of backgrounds and dietary preferences. The researchers note many will choose plant-based alternatives or create a “hybrid holiday” with traditional meals from their home countries. 

“It’s been an interesting couple of years here in Canada, as we are welcoming so many international immigrants … and they’ll bring their own [holiday] traditions,” says Music. 

In addition, she adds traditions are dynamic, and they change. “And so, we’ll see cultural exchange happen slowly in this country where people are having a variety of things on the holiday, if they celebrate Christmas at all. It could just be a day off for some people. So, I think the takeaway is that it’s still a holiday to spend with family and friends, regardless of what you eat." 

"For consumers, we can create our own kind of holiday, and for retailers, take note–especially now with shelter costs eating into so much of our discretionary spending– people are going to cheaper alternatives ... and Christmas won’t be an exception,” adds Music. 

At the store level, some retailers may have to rethink those endless open freezers stuffed with frozen turkeys. “A few years ago, they put Beyond Meat burgers in the meat casings next to hamburgers. They can certainly do something like that to promote alternatives during the holidays,” Music says. “And some retailers in areas with a lot of new Canadians may not be promoting Christmas at all.” 

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