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Rising food prices are having an impact on our BBQ habits 

Sylvain CharleboisThe familiar sizzle of BBQ season is filling the air across the country. From Halifax to Vancouver, backyards come alive with the aromas of grilled meats and vegetables, bringing together families and friends to celebrate our rich culinary traditions. Yet, this year, the joy of BBQing is being tempered by a new reality: rising food prices.

A recent survey conducted by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Caddle, highlights a significant shift in BBQ habits across the country. The study reveals that, of the 9,146 Canadians surveyed in May, 54 percent of those who BBQ have altered their menus due to increasing food costs. This marks a notable trend as Canadians adapt to the financial pressures that have become an unwelcome part of their summer festivities.

BBQing is more than just a cooking method; it is a cherished tradition that embodies the spirit of Canadian summers. The survey found that 72 percent of Canadians have access to a BBQ, with 5.5 percent grilling every day during the summer and 42.2 percent doing so multiple times a week. This high level of engagement underscores the cultural importance of BBQing in Canada.

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Despite its popularity, the landscape of BBQing is changing. New Brunswick boasts the highest BBQ activity during the summer at 55.6 percent, while British Columbia lags at 21.7 percent. Interestingly, 64 percent of Canadians have purchased new BBQ equipment since the onset of the pandemic, driven by a mix of replacing old gear, exploring new cooking methods, and a heightened interest in outdoor activities.

The survey’s most striking finding is the impact of rising food prices on BBQ choices. A majority of respondents have modified their BBQ menus, prioritizing affordability without sacrificing the enjoyment of outdoor cooking. Traditional favourites like hamburgers and hot dogs remain popular, preferred by 36.9 percent of participants, followed by beef steaks at 29.1 percent and chicken pieces at 17.4 percent.

However, the economic strain is evident in the types of food being grilled. With beef prices soaring, many Canadians are turning to more economical options like chicken and vegetables. This shift reflects a broader trend of cost-conscious consumption as families seek to maintain their BBQ traditions while navigating financial constraints.

Despite the challenges, the spirit of BBQing endures. The survey highlights the top reasons why Canadians love BBQing: the unique flavours achieved through grilling (54.5 percent), keeping the heat out of the home during summer (48.8 percent), and the joy of cooking outdoors (44.2 percent). These motivations underscore a resilient desire to enjoy the simple pleasures of summer, even in the face of rising costs.

Moreover, the social aspects of BBQing continue to be significant, with 19.2 percent of respondents valuing the communal experience it fosters. This sense of community, coupled with the mastery of fire control and the ability to contribute to more dinners, keeps the tradition alive and vibrant.

As we navigate the summer of 2024, it is clear that BBQing will remain a cornerstone of Canadian culture. However, the rising cost of food necessitates a reevaluation of our BBQ habits. Whether opting for more affordable cuts of meat, exploring new recipes, or investing in versatile grilling equipment, Canadians are adapting to ensure that their BBQ season remains a time of joy and togetherness.

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab’s survey offers valuable insights into these evolving trends, providing a snapshot of how Canadians are responding to economic pressures. As we fire up our grills and gather with loved ones, let us celebrate the resilience and creativity that define our approach to BBQing in these challenging times.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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