Meat prices going up, from the farm to the table

Butchers say that people are shying away from the more expensive cuts of meat, opting instead for ground beef, chicken and other more affordable options.

At Montreal butcher shops and supermarkets, meat prices are on the rise just as barbecue season gets into full swing.

Statistics Canada says the price of a sirloin steak is up 12 per cent in the past year, while pork chops are up 16 per cent.

And the change is having an impact all the way up and down the chain from farmer to consumer.

Marcus Ritter is a farmer and co-founder of Valens Farm in Elgin, Quebec — about 75 kilometres southwest of Montreal.

He says his prices have gone up by about a $2 per kilogram since last fall.  

“In the short term, yes we’re going to gain, but in the long-term we have to have more stable prices,” Ritter told Mike Finnerty on CBC Radio's Daybreak.

According to Statistics Canada, the rise in retail prices for grilling steaks and ground beef  is more than six times the two per cent increase seen in Canada's overall inflation rate over the same period.

The reason is simple: supply and demand.

Cattle herds are at record lows after several years of farmers killing more cows than usual in order to sell them to stay afloat.

The recent drought in the United States has also been driving prices up due to more demand from across the border. 

And pork prices are up because of a new virus that's decimating piglets. With a fatality rate near 100 per cent for very young animals, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus has wiped out about one-tenth of North America's normal pig population — although it's worse in the U.S. where pig farms tend to be larger and therefore more cramped.

Ritter says that as an organic farmer, his prices have jumped even higher — increasing nearly 25 per cent on average.

“It makes a huge difference for a farmer, and it definitely makes a bigger impact for the packers and for the consumer,” said Ritter. 

Ritter says that, right now, the price has stabilized because of a lack of demand and may level off throughout the summer.

“I say they won’t come down, but they’re going to stay similar to what they are right now for a couple of months at least,” said Ritter.

Butchers say that people are shying away from more expensive cuts of meat, opting instead for ground beef and other more affordable options.

“I’m sitting on steaks that people aren’t buying anymore. They’re going for a cheaper cut of meat. I’ve notice more of an increase in my chicken sales,” said Tony Mendolia, owner of Slovenia Meats in Montreal's Little Italy.

Mendolia says he has now started to sell more of his meat through advanced orders, instead of stocking large quantities in his fridges.

He says he is not passing on the full price increase to consumers, hoping to keep his clients coming back.

“The bottom line is that we’re just breaking even and paying the mortgage like everyone else,” said Mendolia.

“Last year, we could do more repairs and update machinery.” 

Even hamburger meat is getting too expensive for those who buy enough of it.

“The price has been going up. Everybody says it’s a cheaper cut, but hamburger is not even that cheap anymore,” said Reda Wahba, co-owner of the Burger de Ville restaurant. “We’re taking a hit like everyone else.”

He says that he has seen the price of fresh ground beef steadily rising since last fall, adding nearly 20 percent to his cost per hamburger.

However, Wahba says to stay competitive with fast-food restaurants, he has raised the price of sandwiches by only about 25 cents.

And, because he says he doesn’t want to change the taste of his product, he can’t switch to frozen patties or other cheaper alternatives.

“My customers know my product, so I can’t change the quality,” says Wahba.