With grocery bills soaring, are meal kits worth it?  Expert advice to reduce spending on food - National |  Globalnews.ca

With grocery bills soaring, are meal kits worth it? Expert advice to reduce spending on food – National | Globalnews.ca

Rising food prices have prompted many Canadians to take a closer look at their grocery bills, reconsidering whether the label price for meal kits is worth the time saved in the kitchen.

For our Sticker Shock series on beating inflation in your home, Global News spoke to the experts this week about when meal kits might be the right choice, and some other ways to save on your purchase bill.

The latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) figures from Statistics Canada on Wednesday show that food inflation is at its highest level in more than 40 years.

Soaring food prices – Canadians paid 9.7 per cent more at the grocery store in April than a year ago – has been cited as one of the biggest drivers of inflation nationwide.

StatCan said inflation has hit items such as pasta (up 19.6 percent) and coffee (up 13.7 percent), with staples such as meat and fresh fruit increasing by more than 10 percent.

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“Food inflation is probably the biggest problem affecting households at the moment,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Laboratory for Agro-Food Analytics at Dalhousie University.

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Inflation Calculator – How do higher prices affect your personal finances?

Canada is not alone in facing a rising cost of living, with peer countries like the US facing 8.3 per cent inflation and the UK pegging inflation at 9 per cent – the highest level in 40 years.

But prices in Canadian grocery stores are still surprising to Jenny Gandhi and her family in Toronto.

Having immigrated at the beginning of the year from Singapore, which depends entirely on importing food to storage shelves, she told Global News she expected Canadian food prices to be lower by comparison.

But comparing the $5 she says she could spend for a handful of avocados in Singapore with the $6 or $7 she’d pay for the same amount in Canada, she admits to some lingering shock at grocery stores in Toronto.

“Since Canada is growing things, we were quite surprised that our groceries cost about 10 percent or 15 percent higher than they were in Singapore,” Gandhi says.

Jainee Ghandi with her husband Vaibhav, son Aarav and daughter Chahel in Singapore (left) and Niagara Falls, Ont.


The value of the meal set has been called into question

Gandhi says she spends between $400 and $500 a week to feed her family of four, including children aged 12-7. She says her family eats home-cooked meals for every lunch and dinner during the week, with occasional restaurant meals on the weekends.

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An occasional meal set is included in their weekly food budget, which arrives at their doorstep with two to three pre-divided recipes and ingredients every two weeks.

Gandhi estimates that each meal set recipe costs a total of $50 to feed her family of four, without spilling the leftovers.

How much you pay for a set meal depends on the service you sign up for and the number of portions you order in a given week.

In general, buying for a larger family – or buying more meals at once for a smaller family – is more economical when it comes to meal combinations.

Compare costs for each meal group served broken down by the number of portions per recipe (four or two). Based on orders of four recipes per box, via prices publicly listed on each provider’s website.

Even buying for a family of four, Gandhi says she’s under no illusion that she’s saving any money by choosing meal combinations, which often cost more per meal than just getting the same ingredients from the store.

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“They don’t come into the picture from a money-saving standpoint. They definitely come from a time-saving standpoint,” she says, adding that replacing each meal with a recipe from a group would break her budget in the long run.

Instead, she uses the meal group option in moderation.

“If I know the next two weeks are going to be tough and I won’t have the time to chop the vegetables and wash the vegetables, then we’d prefer a meal set.”

Research from the Agri-Food Analytics Lab shows that the popularity of meal kits has boomed during the pandemic as Canadians searched for new home-cooking options when restaurants were closed.

But with inflation stretching grocery budgets less than ever, Charlebois thinks we’re at a “crossroads” when it comes to meal kit adoption in Canada.

“People want to save as much money as possible rather than pay a premium for takeaway…” he says.

Read more:

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Estimates from the Agri-Food Analysis Laboratory suggest that the meal kit market in Canada may have peaked in 2020 with 12.8 percent of households signing up for a service, and today it’s down to about 8.4 percent.

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As the economy reopens, people are returning to restaurants and out of their kitchens, Charlebois says, leaving their meal-group subscriptions behind. Although many were on board with rebates and coupon codes in the early days, not everyone who tested the services was stuck paying the full price.

Among more than one in five Canadians who tried meal combinations and then canceled, 78.1 percent cited higher costs as a reason for abandoning services, according to the lab.

People began to normalize their lives. Meal groups are also becoming less attractive in terms of presentation,” says Charlebois.

Click to play the video:

Sticky Shock: Facing the Rising Cost of Inflation in Canada

Poster Shock: Facing the Rising Cost of Inflation in Canada – May 12, 2022

Pros of the meal group approach

Experts say there may be a few reasons why a family should stick to meal kits or delve into today’s market.

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Charleboa says meal combinations remain more popular among younger generations and can be a good way to make it easier for someone who isn’t comfortable in the kitchen to cook more at home.

He says that certain types of families, such as single-parent families where making time to plan meals is scarce, may also get more value from meal groups than others.

Personal finance expert Rubina Ahmed Haq says the nightly group meal recipe likely isn’t sustainable for the average family and suggests once or twice a week an affordable frequency.

However, she agrees that for those looking to balance a hectic family life with healthy, efficient eating, meal kits can be a smart, albeit costly, choice.

“If you are a really busy family and this is something that will efficiently bring healthy food to the table and you will eat it all, it could be a great option for you,” she told Global News.

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Will the meal kit providers survive the pandemic?

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One way meal kits can cut costs is by reducing food waste, a common source of pain in households’ grocery bills.

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The National Zero Waste Council said in February that 63 percent of the food Canadians throw out can be eaten, costing the average household more than $1,300 a year.

“If you mainly eat what you buy as much as possible, you save money. That’s what meal groups do. They have the ability to really measure portions very well,” Charlebois says.

The trade-off when it comes to meal kits is that while food portions are used a lot, the packaging required to get the recipe to your door adds to your meal’s carbon footprint.

“If this is your agenda, that you want to bring less waste back to landfill, you probably don’t achieve that goal by getting the meal kits,” Ahmed Haq notes.

Tips to reduce food waste

There are some evergreen tips to reduce food waste without blowing the bank or piling up plastic packaging.

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Ahmed Haq says a little thought can go a long way.

It encourages families to make a list before hitting the grocery store, which helps protect you from impulsive purchases.

Consulting with a pilot can allow you to plan this week’s sales.

Taking a quick inventory of your refrigerator and pantry before you leave the house can ensure that a particular product you already have isn’t doubled, making one of those purchases more likely to be wasted.

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“If you’re not making a list, you’re already setting yourself up for failure,” says Ahmed Haq.

“Even if you’re just taking a quick trip, just take a couple of minutes for a little tour of your kitchen to make sure you’re not buying things you don’t need and that you’re actually buying something that will do the trick for you and your family when it comes to your meal plan.”

Ahmed Haq acknowledges that the dominant advice among finance experts may be to plan only one trip to the grocery store per week, but she falls back on that when it comes to reducing waste.

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She points out that making grocery trips every two to three days may not be possible for every household based on situations like cars and gas prices.

But when it comes to perishable items, she says reducing the time between visits will help ensure that some foods aren’t pushed to the back of the refrigerator only to find the mysterious mold growing on them a week later.

“We forgot about those zucchini and find them three weeks later wet in a bag. And you think, ‘Wow, I wasted three or four dollars in there just because I have to get rid of them.'”

— with files from Anne Gaviola of Global News

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Gardening to save money

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© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

2022-05-19 10:00:22

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