By Michel Rochette, President of Conseil canadien du commerce de détail — Quebec
In a globalized economy, inflation has not spared anyone. Not a day goes by without us, as citizens or as businesses, suffering the repercussions of the increases that affect all aspects of our daily lives. The shock is more brutal since we have collectively forgotten the inflationary impacts, since we have to go back a few decades in our memories to find such a period.
Of all the impacted industries, the ones most likely to affect us personally are certainly those related to retail. Since this is where, on an everyday basis, we buy the essential goods that help us with housing, clothing, and food. And of these, food is by far the most common purchased item.
It is therefore normal to experience food inflation before any other.
On this subject, if much has been written, some are worth remembering.
Food businesses are the last link in a gigantic supply chain that starts with agriculture and livestock, and goes all the way to packaging and handling, through production and processing. These are just a few of the many links that bring food to the grocery shelves. At every stage labour, energy and transport costs have exploded, affected by labour shortages and inflation, not to mention the war in Ukraine and climate change that continue to severely disrupt supplies, including fertilizer and fuel, and many lost crops.
Few people know that, despite these daunting challenges, food prices have grown less in Canada than in comparable markets. From October 2021 to October 2022, the European Union saw prices of its grocery products increase by 18%. Analysts consider that France and Belgium were relatively spared, with increases of 15% and 18% respectively. In Germany, the increase was 19%, and in the United States, 13%.
In Canada, price growth was limited to 10%.
Obviously, this situation will not comfort the most vulnerable, those who must struggle every day with poverty and its effects. But we can at least console ourselves for not having to deal with the same increases as our neighbours.
In addition, we have both the privilege and the challenge of inhabiting a gigantic territory for a relatively small population, which inevitably adds to the challenges of supply, transportation, and handling. Nevertheless, we are fortunate, as a society, to have shelves filled with superior quality, diverse products throughout Quebec.
Some have pointed to the profit margins of larger grocers. Yet for the food sector, those margins have remained unchanged for years, long before the pandemic. Despite inflation, despite the rise in all costs at each stage of production, despite rising wages, despite the shortage of workers, margins have remained unchanged and food prices have risen less here than elsewhere.
Too little has been written to highlight the immense work of merchants who have had to make considerable efforts over the past two years to ensure access to quality service and products throughout the territory, in a more favourable context than in other countries.