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Your best buy 


D 1650 


1 S80 print) 

ublication 1650 

PUBLICATION 1650, available from 

Information Services, Agriculture Canada, Ottawa K1 A 0C7 

© Minister of Supply and Services Canada 1978 
Cat No A73-1650/1978 ISBN : 0-662-01396-4 
Printed 1978: Reprinted 1980 10M-5 80 

This publication replaces Publication 1354, 
Your Food Dollar. 

Cette publication est aussi disponiDle en francais. 

Food — 
Your best buy 

Why do food prices keep rising? 
What do you pay for when you buy 

This publication gives some of the 
answers, using the latest figures 
from Statistics Canada at time of 
going to press. It also suggests 
ways of getting value for your food 
dollars, while at the same time 
providing good nutrition for your 

The Economics Branch, Food Advi- 
sory Division and Information 
Services of the Canada Department 
of Agriculture, Ottawa, cooperated 
in preparing the publication. 


Change in Consumer Income and Food Prices 


Spending Disposable Income 


Marketing System 


Where Does Your Food Dollar Go 


Food Prices and Farmers' Returns 


Changes in Eating Habits 


Getting Value For Your Food Dollars 


Changes in Consumer 
Income and Food 

Canadians with a limited income 
are concerned about the rising prices 
of food but, over the years, the 
average amount of spending money 
available to each person has risen 
much more than food prices. 

To accurately compare income 
levels at different times, economists 
and statisticians use the term 
"disposable income". Your dispos- 
able income consists of the money 
you have to spend after deducting 
items like income tax, pension 
contributions and unemployment 
insurance from your pay and adding 

Disposable Income 


Cost off a Week's Food for a Family 
off Four 












baby bonuses, old-age pensions 
and similar income. Food and all 
other purchases are made out of 
disposable income. 

The average disposable income 
in Canada today is more than five 
times what it was 35-40 years ago, 
rising from $921 in 1949 to $4734 in 
1975 (the latest year for which 
statistics are available). 

In contrast to income, food 
prices just slightly more than 
doubled during the same period; 
and even by 1977 they were only 
about two and a half times the 1949 
prices. In 1949 it cost about $20 
to buy enough meat, vegetables, 
fruits, milk, bread and other foods 
to feed a family of four for 1 week. 

The same kinds and quantities of 
foods cost $49 in 1977; about 75% 
of this expenditure was for foods 
prepared at home and the rest was 
for food prepared in restaurants 
and elsewhere. 

One way to relate consumer 
income and food prices is to com- 
pare the number of hours worked 
today with the number worked in 
past years to buy a certain quantity 
of food, that is, the same amount 
of food at different prices. In 1949, 
it took 20 hours' wages to buy a 
week's supply of food for a family 
of four, but by 1977 only 8 hours 

of work were required to obtain 
the same amount of food. In other 
words, even though food prices were 
higher in 1977 than in previous 
years, it took less than half as long 
as in 1949 to earn enough money 
to buy the food for the family.* 

Average manufacturing wages. 

Number of Hours Worked to Buy 
Food for a Family of Four 
for One Week 


20 Hours 



14 Hours 


11 Hours 



8 Hours 

Spending Disposable 

Like most consumers, you have 
probably found that the more income 
you have the more you spend on 
food — not necessarily because 
you buy more food but because 
you buy more expensive kinds of 
food, such as tender steaks, greens 
and berries out of season, and 
convenience foods requiring little 
home preparation. However, even 
with greater expenditures and higher 
prices for food, the proportion of 
average disposable income that is 
spent on food today in retail stores 
(excluding non-food items) is 
smaller than ever. 

In 1975, for example, only about 
18% of disposable income was 
used to buy food; this was at least 
6% less than in 1949. Also, between 
1949 and 1975, the amount of 
disposable income put into personal 
savings or spent on non-food items, 
such as cars, houses, books, 
entertainment, travel, clothing and 
other things, increased from 76% 
to 82%. 

To express this in dollars, 
the money spent on food rose from 
$220 per person per year in 1949 to 
$865 in 1975. But non-food expen- 
ditures increased by more than five 

Spending Disposable Income 




l@d — 69ft 

u u 


Marketing System 

times, from $629 to $3384, during Consumers don't usually buy foods 

the same period; and personal 
savings went from $72 to $485 
(almost seven times as much) 
per person per year. 

directly from farmers, but from retail 
stores. Milk products, meat, eggs 
cereals, fruits, vegetables and other 
foods move from the farms to your 
table through the hands of many 
business firms, which together 
make up the marketing system. 

This marketing system employs 
many people and is built on the 
basis of the demands made by 
consumers for a variety of services. 
Each firm's service adds something 
to, takes something from, transports, 
or provides information on foods. 
Jobs such as food processing, 
grading, packing, transportation, 
wholesaling, advertising, market 
reporting and retailing are all parts 
of the marketing system; and all add 
to the cost of getting foods from 
the farmer to you. 

Marketing firms' costs have 
greatly increased for labor, trans- 
portation, supplies, construction, 
utilities, taxes and so on. These 
costs would have risen even more, 
were it not for the increased pro- 
ductivity of labor — the largest 
single element of marketing cost — 
and other improvements, such as 
greater use of supermarkets and 
self-service stores, that have taken 
place in food marketing. 


Where does your food Food prices and 
dollar go? farmers' returns 

The money that you pay for food is 
income to farmers or producers and 
to the business firms that make 
up the marketing system. Since the 
business or marketing firms include 
their marketing costs (for processing, 
wholesaling, retailing and other 
services) in the price you pay for 
the food, their share of your food 
dollar covers these expenses. Much 
of the farmers' returns, of course, 
go toward paying their costs of 
producing the food. 

Though the total amount of 
money you and other consumers have 
spent on food has greatly increased 
since 1949, the farmers' income 
has not increased proportionately. 
Of the $2.1 billion that consumers 
spent for Canadian food in 1949, 
farmers received 1.2 billion, or 
57% of the receipts; but in 1975, 
when consumers spent $15.6 billion 
for food, farmers received $4.3 
billion, or only 27.6% of the receipts. 
During this period, the marketing 
firms' share of the income from 
food sales increased by more than 
10 times, from $0.9 to $9.4 billion. 

1949 1959 1969 1975 

Many hundreds of thousands of 
farmers are producing food for your 
table. They compete against each 
other, selling food usually at very 
reasonable prices. As competition 
increases and the market price of 
their food goes down, farmers may 
try to produce more food to increase 
their incomes. In this way, many 
new skills and techniques are 
developed and farm practices, 
technology and efficiency are 

According to economists who 
have studied farm costs and returns, 
consumers actually gain more from 
these improvements than producers 
do. This is because other farmers 
quickly adopt each new method 
of production, which again increases 
the amount of food available and 
consequently lowers the prices the 
farmers get for their products. 

Where Does Your Food Dollar Go? 

The quantity of food marketed 
in Canada in 1976 was almost 
double that of 1949. This was partly 
because the population increased 
from 13.4 to 23 million people during 
the period. Also 1.6 million farm 
people who had produced much 
of their own food moved to towns 
and cities and started buying 
marketed food. 


Changes in eating 



1969 1976 




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Farm Population Non-Farm 


The farm population decreased 
from about 4 million to 1 .4 million 
during the 28-year period. Yet, 
because of the great advancement 
in agricultural production, 1976's 
smaller number of farmers produced 
over nearly twice as much food as 
was produced in 1949. 

Farm food-production costs 
tripled between 1949 and 1976; and 
there are many other reasons for 
higher food prices today than in past 
years — extra services, packaging, 
new sales devices, promotion, 
higher wages and energy costs, 
and inflation. However, it is clear 
that farmers do not gain substantially 
from the increased prices, since 
their portion of your food dollar 
continues to diminish. 

The eating habits of Canadians 
have changed considerably since 
1949. For example, more meat, 
poultry, vegetables and fruits are 
consumed today than 20-30 years 
ago but less cereal products, butter 
and fluid whole milk. The changes 
in consumption of these products 
between 1949 and 1976 are shown 
in the following table: 

pounds per person 


















Fluid whole 


























The tastes of most consumers 
have become more expensive. Foods 
such as meat, fruits and vegetables 
cost more, for example, than cereals, 
considering the amount of energy 
they produce. However, these foods 
have improved the nutritive value 
of our diet and have made everyday 
meals more varied, appealing and 


Getting value for your 
food dollars 

Good meals that are easy on the 
budget do not just happen — they 
are the result of careful planning 
and a knowledge of the food being 
Plan Ahead 

Advance planning of meals 
makes the best use of time, energy 
and money. 

• Plan the week's menus. 
Calculate the number of servings 
of meat, fish and poultry to buy. 
Include eggs and cheese to help 
stretch your meat dollar. Keep in 
mind foods that supply nutrients 
needed by the body, as listed in 
Canada's Food Guide.* Include 
foods that are plentiful and lower 
priced than usual. 

• Check weekly food advertise- 
ments to help determine the best 
buys. Compare prices for various 
grades and brands of foods. 

• Make a shopping list and 
stick to it. List the foods needed 

for the week's menus and the staples 
needed for the next week. Plan to 
buy only the amount of food that 
can be stored properly. Usually, 
but not always, the larger package 
is the better buy. To save time 
and steps, arrange your shopping 
list according to the layout of the 
store where you usually shop. 

• Read food labels and under- 
stand what they mean. Know can 
and package sizes and grade 

• Keep a record of money spent 
on food and set up a budget. 
Remember, the food budget does 
not include the many non-food 
items available in the grocery store. 

Select for Quality 

Many food products in retail stores 
are sold by grade.** These grades 
are uniform guides established on 
the basis of quality by federal and 
provincial legislation. Grade names 
such as Canada Fancy and Canada 
No. 1 , appearing on a container 
or product, mean that the food has 
been graded according to federal 
standards which are enforced by 
Canada Department of Agriculture 
inspectors. The federal grades apply 
to foods shipped from one province 
to another, as well as to food 
exports and imported foods of a kind 
produced in Canada. The following 
foods are graded: butter, Cheddar 
cheese, skim milk powder, meat, 
poultry, eggs, fresh, canned, dried 
and frozen fruits and vegetables, 
honey and maple syrup. 

* For information on the grades of food 
products, write to Information Services, 
Canada Department of Agriculture, 
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0C7. 

* For nutrition information and copies of 
Canada's Food Guide, write to your 
provincial department of health. 


Brand names are often helpful 
in selecting quality. Some pro- 
cessing firms use one brand name 
on their best quality products and 
another on those of lower quality. 
Also, some stores have their own 
private brand of products, which 
they sometimes offer at near whole- 
sale prices to keep regular customers 
and attract new ones. It pays to 
compare prices on different brands 
carrying the same grade name. 

Top quality at top price may be 
a good buy for some purposes; 
lower quality at a lower price can be 
an equally good buy for others. 
Suit the grade to the use. For 
example, in casserole dishes, 
Canada Choice or Canada Standard 
grade vegetables may be as satis- 
factory as Canada Fancy grade, 
though less perfect in appearance. 

Appearance counts considerably 
in the selection of quality foods. 
Know what foods should look like 
when they are at peak quality. A 
dried-up cabbage is no bargain 
in food value, and spotted fruit must 
be used up quickly or it will spoil. 
Badly dented, bulging and rusted 
canned goods may not be a wise 
buy as the food inside may be 

spoiled. Similarly, frozen foods 
in worn, icy or thickly frosted 
packages may not be of the best 
quality because of poor handling 
or storing. 
Read the Label 

The label on a food product is the 
'window' to the product. A food 
label is required to give these facts: 

• The name of the product 
clearly and conspicuously shown. 

A description of the way in which the 
product is packed may be noted, for 
example, sliced canned peaches 
or diced beets. 

• The name and address of the 
packer or distributor, together with 
the brand name. 

• The grade mark, if a grade 
standard applies to the product, for 
example, Canada Choice canned 
peas or Canada No. 1 potatoes. 

• The net weight and / or volume 
of the contents of the container or 
package. The drained weight of 
graded foods does not appear on 
the label but is specified by federal 
regulations, to ensure that cans 

of the same size contain the same 
weight of each particular product. 

• A list of ingredients in de- 
scending order of their proportions 
in the product if there is no govern- 
ment standard established. Any 
food additives, such as vitamins, 
must be mentioned on the label, 

for example, vitamin C in vitaminized 
apple juice. 

Other information that may be 
noted on the label includes storage 
instructions, directions or recipes 
for use, number of servings and 
expiry date for using the product. 


Shop Wisely 

Meat, Fish and Poultry 

Compare cuts of meat by the 
number of servings of cooked meat 
they provide as well as by their 
price per pound. Note the amount 
of bone in a cut, as it reduces the 
number of servings. Use this chart 
as a guide when buying meat: 

Number of 


per pound 

Roast — boneless 

3 to 4 

— bone-in 

2 to 3 

Steaks and chops 

2 to 3 

Stew meat — boneless 


— bone-in 


Ground meat 

3 to 4 

Cold cuts 


Liver, kidney and heart 

3 to 4 

Chicken and turkey 

1 to 1 1 /2 



Fish — whole 


— pan-dressed 


— steaks 

2 to 3 

— fillets 

3 to 4 

Ground meat is sold under three 
names according to fat content. 
Regular ground beef contains 30% 
fat or less, medium contains 23% 
or less and lean contains 17% or 
less. Fresh sausage meat must not 
contain more than 40% fat and 4% 
cereal filler. 

Price of meat is no indication 
of food value; less expensive cuts 
are just as nourishing as those that 
cost more. Meat prices vary because 
of supply and seasonal demands. 
For example, prices of steaks and 
hamburger may be higher than usual 
in barbecuing season because of 
increased consumer demand; or 
they may be lower if stores are 
featuring these cuts in special sales 
to attract customers. 


Two eggs may be used to 
replace one serving of meat. The 
grade of an egg depends on its 
quality, not its size. However, prices 
of grades A1 and A eggs vary 
according to sizes based on indi- 
vidual egg weights of at least 2-1/4 
ounces for Extra Large, 2 ounces 
for Large, 1-3/4 for Medium, 
1-1/2 ounces for Small and not 
more than 1-1/2 ounces for Peewee. 


Dairy Products 

Prices of milk and cream are 
based largely on fat content, 
whipping cream being the most 
expensive and skim milk the 
cheapest. Skim milk powder and 
evaporated whole milk are lower 
priced and do not require refrig- 

For most families, large cartons 
or jugs of fresh milk are a better 
buy than 1 litre containers. Buying 
milk in a store is usually less 
expensive than home delivery. 
You may wish to make partly 
skimmed milk at home by mixing 
equal quantities of reconstituted 
skim milk and whole milk. 

Cheese usually costs less per 
pound in large packages than in 
small ones. Added ingredients, such 
as herbs or fruit in cream cheese 
and cottage cheese, increase their 
cost. Check price differences be- 
tween natural cheeses, such as 
Cheddar and cottage, and processed 
cheese products. 

Fruits and Vegetables 

Prices of fresh fruits and 
vegetables vary with the season. 
They are usually lowest in the 
summer months, when fresh 
Canadian produce is most plentiful 
Canned and frozen fruits and vege- 
tables are available the year round 
and it is useful to compare their 
prices with those of fresh products 
before making a selection. If 
possible, compare price according 
to the cost per serving (see table 


of 125 mL 

284 mL (10-ounce) 

can green beans 2-3 

398 mL (14-ounce) 

can green beans 

540 mL (19-ounce) 

can green beans 

454 g (1 pound) 

fresh green beans 

283 g (10-ounce) package 

frozen green beans 

908 g (2-pound) package 

frozen green beans 




The addition of ingredients 
such as seasonings or sauces to 
canned or frozen vegetables usually 
increases the cost of the product. 

Dried beans stretch the food 
budget. They may be combined 
with a small portion of meat, such 
as wieners, and served as a meat 

Everyone should be aware of 
the differences in the wide variety 
of fruit beverages available today. 
Juices are the natural juice from 
the particular fruit named. Since 
orange juice and tomato juice 
normally contain sufficient natural 
amounts of vitamin C, this vitamin 
is not added. Apple juice and grape 
juice, on the other hand, may contain 
added vitamin C. Manufactured fruit 
drinks and ades may be mostly 
water and sugar, with artificial 
coloring and flavoring added. 
Nectars normally contain water 
with fruit juice and pulp added in 
varying amounts. A complete list 
of ingredients must appear on all 
labels and if vitamin C is added, 
this must be indicated. 


Bread and Cereals 

Good nutritional value can be 
obtained for money spent on whole 
grain cereals such as cracked wheat 
and rolled oats. Refined cereals, 
which include white-colored farina 
and most ready-to-eat cereals, may 
be enriched with thiamin, riboflavin, 
niacin and iron. Before buying 
refined breakfast cereals, carefully 
check the labels for food value, 
weight and cost. Usually, the more 
a cereal is processed, the more 
it costs. 

White bread enriched with 
thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and iron 
has about the same nutritive value 
as whole wheat bread. Large loaves 
of bread often are a better buy than 
small ones. The type of wrapping 
may add to the cost of the bread. 

Specialty breads, such as fruit, 
cheese and cinnamon, usually 
demand a higher price than white or 
whole wheat bread. 

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Fats and Oils 

Several kinds of fats and oils 
are found in food stores. Butter 
is made from the fat of milk or 
cream, and is usually salted and 
colored. Margarine is a mixture of 
animal or vegetable fats, water and 
milk solids and, usually,added 
coloring, preservatives and vitamins 
A and D (which occur naturally 
in butter). Salad and cooking oils 
are either unrefined oils such as 
olive oil, or refined vegetable oils 
such as corn, cotton, peanut, soy- 
bean or rapeseed oils. Shortening 
is a solid fat usually prepared by 
processing (hydrogenating) a 
combination of fats and oils. Lard is 
made from pork fat. Butter, favored 
for its flavor, usually commands 
a higher price than other solid fats. 
Prices of margarine, oils, shortening 
and lard vary greatly with different 


Convenience Foods 

Any food that has undergone 
some of the preparation ordinarily 
done at home can be called a 
convenience food. The term includes 
such diverse items as frozen indi- 
vidual meals, cookies, instant 
coffee, soup mixes, pastry mixes, 
dehydrated potatoes, canned stew 
and cut-up chicken. The desire to 
save time and effort in the kitchen, 
and ever-changing tastes in food, 
have created a demand for more 
and more convenience foods. 
Each consumer should decide if the 
added cost and differences in flavor 
and appearance are worth it. 
Matching quality, price and use of 
a food efficiently is no simple 
matter. It pays to be as well informed 
as possible on all aspects of food 
buying to ensure that you get the 
best value for your food dollar. 



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