Every year the Canadian Federation of Agriculture (CFA) calculates the calendar date when the average Canadian has earned enough income to pay for his or her annual grocery bill, coined ‘Food Freedom Day.’ This year, Food Freedom Day falls on February 7.
As Canadians, we enjoy a safe and abundant food supply thanks to all the players along the value chain. For this year’s FFD, we chose to focus on celebrating the Canadian value chain and Canadian products, as we feel supporting the Canadian brand is important now more than ever.
We continue to see that a strong portion of the population places great value in buying local, Canadian products. A survey sponsored by Farm Credit Canada demonstrated that 95 per cent of respondents agreed that buying locally grown food is a priority or preference; however, only 43 per cent are willing to pay more forlocal products.
A study done by the George Morris Centre shows that while it has been documented that 80 per cent of consumers will choose local food over alternatives, recent research suggests that 40 is a more realistic percentage of consumers who prefer local food. From these reports, we see that the concept of buying local Canadian products is important to Canadians, but when it comes to making the decision at the grocery store, other priorities come into play.
Cost is often noted as a factor. While this can certainly be appreciated as budgets for many are tight, it’s important to consider the larger picture. Canadian consumers enjoy a domestic food industry providing some of the lowest food costs in the world. In a 2012 comparison of food-at-home budget shares conducted by the USDA, Canada was found to spend the third-lowest share of its total expenditures on food in the world, behind only the U.S. and Britain. According to Statistics Canada, Canadians are expected to have spent 10.6 per cent of their disposable income on food in 2013.
Maintaining such low costs alongside the high labour, environmental and food safety standards Canadians value is a challenge for Canada’s farmers, and they certainly welcome it when Canadians recognize these high standards, quality and the economic benefits of buying Canadian products.
Decisions at the grocery store have a significant ripple effect. As an example, in 2008, every dollar spent at Ontario’s farmers’ markets, created an average of $3.24 worth of economic activity in the provincial economy. Whether you’re buying from your community, your province or from elsewhere in Canada, you are supporting and strengthening the Canadian value chain.
It’s encouraging that research continues to find that Canadians are increasingly loyal to buying local food products, particularly fruits and vegetables, cheese, beef, and poultry. What about packaged, processed and value-added Canadian goods?
Canadian food processors continue to innovate, providing a wealth of new products that meet the dietary and lifestyle needs of Canada’s increasingly health-conscious shopper.
However, 2012 research by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute has found that Canada is importing more and more processed foods. Since 2004, Canadian food-processing imports have increased by approximately 60 per cent, while exports have stagnated. The result is less room on the shelves for Canadian options.
Not only that, but the Canadian food-manufacturing industry is facing real challenges, with plants closing across the country. Since 2007, more than 80 food-processing plants have closed in Canada, with Heinz and Kellogg’s being the most recent examples.
When you realize that these companies purchase approximately 35 per cent of the market that Canada’s farmers produce and as an industry, employ approximately 290,000 Canadians, you begin to see how interlinked the Canadian value chain is. It also perhaps becomes clearer as to why we need a plan, a long-term vision, for our food supply and food system. This is something the CFA strongly believes in and has developed with stakeholders along the value chain, a National Food Strategy.
In observing Food Freedom Day, we celebrate a Canadian value chain that continues to offer us high-quality products produced to the highest standards. It’s also an opportunity to draw attention to what’s needed to keep our food and agriculture sectors strong. Let’s make a commitment this year to buy Canadian when we can, and to stay informed about our food system.
Ron Bonnett is president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and a cow-calf producer near Bruce Mines, Ont.