Long gone are the days of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s love affair with China


Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

China’s recent expulsion of a Canadian diplomat in response to a similar action taken by Canada has raised concerns about the future of the two countries bilateral relationship.

This tit-for-tat exchange is nothing new, especially when dealing with China, but it has left many commodity groups apprehensive about the potential consequences for Canada’s agricultural sector.

Remember 2018? In December of that year, Canadian authorities arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer, Meng Wenzhou, to be extradited to the United States. China responded by detaining two Canadians and changing a drug smuggling sentence against a third Canadian to the death penalty.

China’s actions, along with Ottawa’s expressed concerns, led to a significant slowdown in trade between the two countries. Canadian exporters had to seek alternative routes to reach the Chinese market. Some experts suggest that was the moment when Cold War II started and that it will last a while, perhaps as long as the last one.

The current situation again raises uncertainties about various exports, including lobster, canola, wheat, pork, beef, and even the popular coffee chain Tim Horton’s, which operates over 800 stores in China.

Canada needs to be ready for this. Unlike Cold War I, agri-food trades can be weaponized since we now have massive economic involvement between nations. Knowing more about your enemy is much, much easier now. Our economies have provided open access to people and data. This is not at all reassuring.

According to Farm Credit Canada, after canola and wheat, crustaceans such as lobster, crab, and shrimp were Canada’s third-largest agricultural export to China last year, with a value of over $1 billion. Canada’s agriculture and agri-food products worth more than $8 billion were consumed by China, which happens to be the second-largest export market for Canada.

In contrast to numerous other trading partners, exports to China have continuously risen and were not affected by the global economic crisis. But that relationship now comes with some significant diplomatic baggage. Canada essentially feeds China, and has done so for a few decades now. But China has also grown and has increased its capacity to feed itself. As a nation obsessed with control, China won’t hesitate to compromise its own food security to take a stand. But food insecurity is much less of an issue now than just a few years ago.

Despite having less than 10 per cent of the world’s arable land available for cultivation, China manages to produce one-fourth of the world’s grain and feed one-fifth of the world’s population. China’s agricultural output is the largest globally, yet only 10 per cent of its total land area can be used for farming. And the country is only getting more efficient. It is building hog farms that can produce one million pigs annually. China has more options than before.

It’s hard to argue with the statement that China is not worthy of our democracy, and that no such relationship is warranted. Still, taking a stand will always come with a response, and China is in a powerful position to hurt many nations through trade sanctions.

Global food geopolitics aren’t what they used to be. During the Cold War I, you just picked a side. Canada picked the side which won in the end. But choosing sides in the current geopolitical landscape is not as straightforward as it was during the Cold War I. With China’s ascent and a weakening United States, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and Canada find themselves in between. Aligning solely with the U.S. carries significant risks.

Canada’s relationship and proximity with the United States is a growing problem for our country, no matter who’s in power: Trump, Biden or anyone else for that matter. Many agri-food trade groups like the Lobster Council of Canada, the Canadian Meat Council, and the Canola Council are fully aware that the writing is on the wall and have already made efforts to open new markets in the Asian-Pacific region. Ottawa just opened an office in the region for that exact purpose.

India is certainly an underdeveloped market for Canada. Increased export market diversity beyond the U.S. and China is more critical than ever. Canada exports more than $85 billion of agri-food products a year now, supporting our economy. That can’t be underscored enough.

Long gone are the days of Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s love affair with China in the 70s. The world has changed. China’s President Xi Jinping’s tenure is set to outlast many U.S. Presidents and Prime Ministers. The ‘America buys while China sells’ paradigm is ending as China is no longer cheap and an afterthought; it aims to dominate.

With significant holdings of America’s debt and control over many parts of Africa, a new world order is well underway.

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

King Charles is a 21st century monarch for Canada


Constantine Passaris

Troy Media

Watching the live-streamed coronation proceedings for King Charles at Government House, the seat of the Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick in Fredericton, I was struck by this transformative milestone for the monarchy in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.

Indeed, King Charles’ coronation signalled a new leadership style for the monarchy that is people-centred and modernized. Charles is well suited to usher in his version of the 21st-century monarch. By demeanour, disposition, and design, he is focused on making his reign an opportunity to promote equality, inclusion, and diversity through social engineering.

King Charles, now the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, also inherited the role of head of state for 14 Commonwealth countries, including Canada. The procession of the Commonwealth Governors General and the Prime Ministers filing into Westminster Abbey behind their respective flags was a clear recognition of the multicultural profile that exists across the countries of the Commonwealth and, indeed, within countries such as Canada.

The days of the British Empire when monarchs ruled their colonial lands with a stiff upper lip are behind us. The British Empire has morphed into the British Commonwealth of Nations which have lived the colonial experience. All of this has left festering wounds and contemporary vexations regarding the modern role of Indigenous peoples in the Commonwealth countries.

King Charles is by no means a newbie at his new responsibilities. At 74, he is the longest-serving heir apparent in British history. Like his mother, Queen Elizabeth II, the word service is steeped in his apprenticeship and foundational to his orientation.

The pomp and ceremony of King Charles’ coronation had Canada – a country he is particularly fond of and enjoys on his official and personal visits – written all over it. He has not forgotten the military training he received in the 1970s at the Canadian Forces Base Gagetown near Fredericton.

Canadian troops were on parade, including some from Base Gagetown. As well, five mounted RCMP officers led the return procession from Westminster Abbey to Buckingham Palace. In addition, two Canadian military officers walked alongside the Gold State Coach as it rolled through central London.

On environmental issues, King Charles was ahead of his time. If there ever was such a title as a “green monarch,” Charles deserves it in spades. He raised environmental concerns about climate change and biodiversity loss before they were on the radar of governments and civil society. In this regard, he was truly an environmental visionary.

I admire his sensitivity and determination to right social wrongs on another issue. I have noticed his body language, caring demeanour, and inspired initiatives to improve the well-being of communities in our contemporary society who are discriminated against and marginalized. In this regard, I see an opportunity for Charles to serve as a convener of decision-makers to hold difficult conversations and build bridges. This will lead to positive change and contribute to significant progress on Indigenous reconciliation in Canada.

King Charles has another attribute that makes him stand out as a modern monarch of the 21st century. He is comfortable and indeed enjoys the multicultural dimension of contemporary society in the United Kingdom and Canada. This was underlined in the coronation liturgy when faith leaders and representatives from the Jewish, Greek Orthodox, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Bahai and Zoroastrian communities participated in the proceedings at Westminster Abbey. This represented the multifaith nature of our contemporary society and the importance of the inclusion of other faiths while respecting the social integrity of the different traditions.

I recall my first introduction to King Charles during his visit to New Brunswick in April 1996. Having been invited as chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, I was introduced by then-Premier Frank McKenna by name and public service function. Upon hearing my name, Charles looked at me and said, “That’s Greek, isn’t it?” To which I replied. “Yes, just like your Dad.” This started a cordial conversation about Prince Philip’s birthplace. It’s not common knowledge that Prince Philip was born at the Greek royal family’s summer residence on the Greek island of Corfu.

Charles honoured his father’s memory by including a segment of Greek Orthodox music selected by Alexandros Ligas, a Greek-Canadian musicologist, in his enthronement ceremony.

Dr. Constantine Passaris is a Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick. He is a recipient of the Order of New Brunswick and the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Medal.

The bad news? Era of dirt-cheap food is over


Sylvain Charlebois

We learned last week that Canada’s food inflation rate in March dropped for a second month in a row to 8.9 per cent. However, prices at food stores rose 9.7 per cent year-to-year. While prices increased by 0.3 per cent in one month, the lowest percentage so far in 2023, the gap between food inflation and the general inflation rate reached 4.6 per cent, the highest it has been since 2009.

Even though Canada still has the third-lowest food inflation rate within the G7, after Japan and the United States, a stubbornly high food inflation rate compared to that in other economic sectors will continue to cause sticker shock at the grocery store.

Many are asking when food prices will return to pre-2022 levels. The truth is, they won’t. With higher wages and increasing packaging and energy costs, food prices just won’t drop. Some food companies will raise salaries by more than 10 per cent over the next three years just to increase employee retention. It’s challenging to recruit for many remotely located agri-food companies, and the work, in some cases, can be physically demanding.

Consumers are feeling the impact of these financial adjustments on the food supply chain. Grocers are paying more for goods, as shown in their financial statements for several months now.

Our best hope is to see the food inflation rate drop. With a lower food inflation rate comes more predictability for the industry. Many households are dedicating a larger percentage of their total budget to food purchases.

Or are they?

The retail sales numbers released by Statistics Canada over the past few years tell us an interesting story.

In January 2017, Canadians were spending 48 per cent on food, among all other goods bought at retail. This went down to 46 per cent just before the pandemic started. In March 2020, this rate shot up to 74 per cent for obvious reasons – nothing was open for business. Today, 41 per cent of the money spent on retail goods is for food, excluding alcohol and cannabis. These numbers exclude major components of our economy like services and housing.

The data seems counter-intuitive but may, in fact, suggest a few things. For one, while this certainly means inflation is impacting all aspects of our lives, the data is telling us that Canadians are still spending.

Most important, however, total retail sales for grocery and specialty food stores appear to have almost plateaued. In February 2023, the monthly food expenditures per capita were about $583. In February 2020, three years earlier, the monthly food expenditures per capita were roughly $618.

Since we get less for our dollar now, these numbers are astonishing. If we are to believe these numbers, Canadians are likely buying less food in volume and are also spending less in food retail. And, as major grocers’ revenues, including Loblaw, Empire/Sobeys and Metro, have increased in recent years, this may also indicate that independent grocers are simply selling less food.

Again, these numbers don’t provide a complete retail picture since they exclude services, but numbers suggest that while the size of our retail market is still increasing, food retail in Canada is stagnating. In fact, from January 2022 to January 2023, retail food sales have dropped in Canada by more than five per cent. By mid-2022, when food inflation was really putting more pressure on everyone, food retail sales started to drop despite more people coming to Canada.

Unsurprisingly, many, many households are just spending less and being more frugal about food purchases in times of financial stress. They may also be wasting less food as well and are more careful with food inventories they have at home. Or is it more gardening or more visits to farmers’ markets?

This causes concern about the numerous health and nutritional compromises consumers are making due to higher food prices. We can see how trading down at the grocery store can have long-term effects on the health of individuals and families, especially children.

It certainly has been confusing for Canadian shoppers over the last 12 months. Grocery shopping takes more thought and analysis on the part of the consumer. We can’t just drop by the grocery store and pick up what we’ll need for the next few days.

The bad news is that Canadians are coming out of an era during which food was dirt cheap. In fact, the world is experiencing the same challenges, not just Canada. The good news is that things are slowly calming down for the food industry, giving them much-needed breathing room, and allowing food retail to offer consumers more frequent and better discounts.

So, yes, with food inflation, patience will pay off.

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

Canadians want more food price freezes … and competition


Sylvain Charlebois

Many surveys suggest that Canadians firmly believe grocery chains are profiteering from food inflation and pushing prices higher unnecessarily. Meanwhile, many experts believe some profiteering is a reality in parts of the industry, and not just in food retail.

The reality is that food inflation is a worldwide phenomenon: Canada has the third-lowest food inflation rate within the G7+EU (9.7 per cent for February 2023), after Japan (7.5 per cent) and the United States (9.5 per cent).

However, consumer trust is critical for governments and the food industry. How much has that trust been eroded in recent months?

While the Competition Bureau is currently studying the food industry and will table its report in June, the Standing Committee in Agriculture and Agri-Food in the House of Commons (in which many experts have participated so far, including the top CEOs of major grocery chains in Canada) is investigating food inflation.

Working with Caddle, our Lab at Dalhousie University conducted a cross-national survey at the end of March 2023, which included 9,884 respondents, a massive sample. With this investigation, we looked at how Canadians saw CEOs’ performances when they testified before the Standing Committee in Ottawa. We also looked at which factors Canadians believe contribute the most to food inflation, and what can be done about it.

We first asked if respondents have been following the recent parliamentary committee hearing on agriculture, where the leaders of Canadian grocery chains were defending themselves regarding food inflation. Only 35 per cent said that they have been following the proceedings.

Of those Canadians who did follow the proceedings, only 32.9 per cent felt grocers were either very convincing or convincing during testimonies. The majority remained unconvinced. Only 24.7 per cent felt grocers were transparent and forthcoming enough about the data they shared. So, in general, Canadians were not overly convinced by grocers.

While grocers are heavily criticized, answers are slightly more varied when asked to choose one factor contributing to higher food prices. A total of 30.3 per cent of Canadians think grocery chain price gouging is the main reason food prices have been rising in Canada recently. A total of 29.9 per cent believe inflation (or monetary/fiscal policies) is the main factor for higher food prices. In fact, both Quebec and Saskatchewan are the only provinces where the highest percentage wasn’t grocer price gouging but rather inflation/monetary/fiscal policies. A total of 36.1 per cent of Quebecers believe monetary policies are the main factor for higher food inflation, and 32.1 per cent of people in Saskatchewan think the same.

We asked questions about what grocers can do to help consumers. While 46.6 per cent would appreciate more price freezes, 44.2 per cent expect more transparency related to food sales specifically. While 36.4 per cent of respondents wish loyalty programs would be more generous, a total of 33.4 per cent of respondents would like more competition in Canada.

We asked questions about what governments can do. A total of 44.0 per cent of respondents believe that governments should intervene and regulate the price of some staples at the grocery store. Only 19.1 per cent believe government should implement a windfall tax. A windfall tax would be levied by the government on unexpected profits or gains that are not part of a company’s normal business operations.

A total of 4.5 per cent of Canadians believe the government should create a crown corporation and start its own grocery chain. Can you imagine seeing the government run its own grocery chain? The government already runs a crown corporation which competes with banks in the agri-food sector. It’s called Farm Credit Canada. So, it’s not impossible.

The survey asked specifically about the proposed “Grocery Code of Conduct,” for which we should get an update from Minister of Agriculture Marie-Claude Bibeau in April. We asked if Canadians were supportive of the “Grocery Code of Conduct,” which would lessen the influence of some major grocers and help independent grocers and processors. Of Canadians aware of a “Grocery Code” (n=3366), 68.1 per cent support such a code. The province with the highest percentage of support is Nova Scotia, where 76.5 per cent of respondents support the Code, followed by British Columbia with 74.5 per cent. The lowest levels of support are in Prince Edward Island (53.2 per cent) and Manitoba (64.2 per cent). These are surprising results, higher than expected.

The Grocery Code of Conduct is not just a set of rules; it’s a lifeline for Canadian shoppers. It ensures fair pricing, transparency, consistency, and accountability from retailers, giving consumers the peace of mind they deserve when purchasing groceries.

In a nutshell, this survey showed that a good number of Canadians understand the real issues in our Canadian food economy, and we shouldn’t rely on social media to judge how Canadians understand how food prices are set. We simply need more competition and more protection for consumers. While we need a practical Grocery Code of Conduct, we also need to make Canada a more attractive place to invest.

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

OPINION TEASER: Canadians want food price freezes … and competition

Many surveys suggest that Canadians firmly believe grocery chains are profiteering from food inflation. The reality is that food inflation is a worldwide phenomenon

MPs take pay raise same day they take more from taxpayers

Politicians don’t deserve pay raises while making life unaffordable for Canadians

Franco Terrazzano

Troy Media

In just over two weeks, members of Parliament will take more money out of your wallet and stuff more into their own.

On April 1, the federal government is increasing carbon and alcohol taxes while MPs take their fourth pay raise since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s pay raise will range from an extra $5,100 for a backbench MP to an extra $10,200 for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, based on contract data published by the government of Canada.

A backbencher currently collects a $189,500 salary. Ministers take home $279,900. Trudeau gets $379,000 from taxpayers. Do they really think they should take thousands more from their constituents, many of whom are struggling to fill the fridge?

But this year’s changes alone downplay the pay raises politicians took during the pandemic.

As of April 1, MPs will receive an annual salary $15,700 higher than they did pre-pandemic, while the prime minister will take home an extra $31,400.

Politicians don’t deserve pay raises when they make life unaffordable with higher taxes.

The federal carbon tax will be cranked up to 14 cents per litre of gas and 12 cents per cubic metre of natural gas on April 1.

The Trudeau government claims “families are going to be better off” with its carbon tax and rebates. The government expects you to believe it can raise taxes, skim some off the top to pay for hundreds of new bureaucrats and still make you better off.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer’s math shows Canadians shouldn’t swallow that spin.

The carbon tax will cost the average family between $402 and $847 this year, even after the rebates, according to the PBO. And this will be the fourth time Trudeau has increased his carbon tax since COVID-19 touched down.

While Ottawa sticks Canadians with higher bills, other countries have provided relief. The Canadian Taxpayers Federation identified 51 national governments that cut taxes during the pandemic and as inflation took off. That includes more than half of G7 and G20 countries and two-thirds of the countries in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Many of our peers were also offering relief at the pumps.

Australia cut its gas tax in half. India cut its gas tax to “keep inflation low, thus helping the poor and middle classes.” The United Kingdom announced billions in fuel tax relief. South Korea cut its gas tax by 30 per cent. Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Israel, Peru, Poland, 25 Indian states and union territories, Alberta, Ontario, Newfoundland and Labrador, New Jersey and Florida also cut gas taxes.

You could be forgiven if all this drives you to drink. But Trudeau will also be reaching further into your wallet every time you pick up a case of Keith’s, a bottle of Pinot or a mickey of rum.

Canadians already pay about half of the price of beer, 65 per cent of the price of wine and three-quarters of the price of spirits in taxes. And in April, the federal excise tax will be going up by another 6.3 per cent.

First passed in the 2017 budget, the federal escalator tax automatically increases excise taxes on alcohol with the rate of inflation each April. This undemocratic tax hike allows MPs to take more money from your wallet every year without having to vote on the increase.

After April’s hike, the federal government’s alcohol excise taxes will have increased by about 18 per cent since the automatic annual increase was introduced in 2017.

Politicians shouldn’t be raising taxes and giving themselves pay raises when Canadians have to choose between the jug of milk or the package of beef at the grocery store. All MPs should oppose April’s tax and pay hikes.

Franco Terrazzano is the Federal Director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

Carbon taxes driving food prices higher


Could become a much more significant driver of food inflation than climate change itself

Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

On April 1, the carbon tax will be set at $65 per metric tonne. We are slowly marching towards a carbon tax of $170 per metric tonne by 2030, more than double what it is today.

Yet, so far, not one study has looked at how the carbon tax will impact food affordability in Canada. Not one.

Ottawa is currently considering Bill C-234, which would offer farmers a desperately needed carbon-tax exemption for grain drying and barn heating. If no election is called, the bill remains on track to pass both the House and the Senate and become law by summer.

This would be welcome news for farmers who are subjected to price-taking economics. Taxing farmers more can only cost them more. Ottawa has now invested heavily in programs to help farmers adopt greener soil and energy management practices, but realizing any financial benefits from these changes will take time. And farmers need help now.

But for the rest of the food supply chain, the economic impact of the carbon tax remains a mystery. The federal carbon tax currently impacts Ontario, Manitoba, the Yukon, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Nunavut. Starting July 1, 2023, the list of provinces under the federal carbon pricing scheme will grow to include Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland and Labrador. This will only leave British Columbia, Quebec, and the Northwest Territories, which have their own federally approved provincial carbon pricing.

According to a report from the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), more than $8 billion will be collected from small businesses through the carbon tax by the end of fiscal 2023, but as little as $35 million will be given back as credit in the form of programs.

Many small businesses, especially family businesses, are in the food industry. In other words, much of the funding is disappearing into Ottawa’s big black public funding box, and few understand what the funds collected through the carbon tax are being used for.

Again, according to a recent survey from the CFIB, 56 per cent of businesses will have no choice but to raise prices due to pressures created by the carbon tax. While some may argue that businesses need to get with the times and reduce their reliance on fossil fuels, the funds are just not coming quickly enough to support small businesses.

In essence, Ottawa needs to help businesses which are part of our agri-food ecosystem. Bill C-234 is just a start. Food processors, artisan shops, and restaurant owners need more and better support, or else, by 2030, the carbon tax will potentially become a much more significant driver of food inflation than climate change itself. That’s right, the policy to penalize polluters could hurt citizens more than climate change, the very thing we are all trying to mitigate.

The ‘stick’ approach exemplified by the carbon tax could be complimented by a ‘carrot’ approach, such as tax credits, a reduction in other taxes or even new grant programs with minimal red tape, which could help businesses reduce their carbon footprint.

Ottawa should be applauded for doing something about climate change. Whether we agree with the carbon tax or not, at least the government is doing something about the climate change problem. But when looking at supply chain economics and as the carbon tax increase over time, our trust in food affordability hangs in the balance. We need to assess and forecast how the carbon tax will burden our food suppliers over time and evaluate how we can support food companies in their journey to a greener future while remaining profitable.

Many families severely impacted by food inflation are quick to criticize grocers for higher food prices. Many, however, don’t realize how our current fiscal regime is making it more difficult for many companies to keep food affordable. Without careful consideration, many families already suffering will be impacted even more by some of these environmental policies.

At the very least, we need to know how significant the impact will be.

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

What ChatGPT will do to the food industry


OpenAI will change our world and has the potential to change the food industry

Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

We all know that the food industry has been adopting AI slowly compared to other sectors. Well, that’s about to change.

Rather, it is changing already. Technologies like ChatGPT are simply retailing AI, allowing consumers to fully appreciate what AI is and how it can change their world. While it took Facebook 10 months to get a million members, ChatGPT got to one million members in just five days. Things are changing fast.

Machine learning and AI have existed for at least 15 to 20 years. Nothing is new. AI is already everywhere in our lives. But the Elon Musk-funded company OpenAI, which designed ChatGPT, decided to go out and provide public demos to show the world what AI can do.

In many ways, this could become a game changer for the food industry. AI doesn’t create knowledge, at least not yet. But it can help us forecast and become better planners and risk managers.

For instance, think about the food we waste. With AI and smart labels, we could have more data about our food’s shelf life at home before we throw anything away. Best-before dates could become obsolete. Same for recalls. Labels, fridges, cellphones, and watches could tell us when a product was recalled without relying on the news. Our model for food recalls, to throw away everything, is plainly obsolete.

The widely unpopular COVID app was developed a few years ago to keep us safe. We can certainly develop better technology and do the same for recalled food products by using AI to keep us safe.

Our visits to the grocery store could also change. As you prepare to leave, you could have AI optimize your diet based on what’s more affordable that day before you browse aisles physically at the store. Call it your own “inflation cookbook,” if you will. One day, you could also be walking into a grocery store and be asked to either have your face or fingers scanned, giving you suggestions on what to buy to make a favourite recipe based on your own needs, size of household, if you’re hosting, dietary preferences and restrictions and so on. Menu development at the restaurant will also be impacted.

Heck, the first cookbook with all recipes entirely created by AI came out just a few months ago.

In turn, industry use of AI will also likely be enhanced. Grocers will likely use more dynamic pricing because consumers will be better equipped to confront higher food prices. For example, if a product sells, prices go up using digital tags. It’s already happening in many places around the world. Accessible AI could get consumers to appreciate the utility of dynamic pricing in real-time. Things could get interesting.

Consumers are affected by everything – mood, weather, context, the economy, pricing – and so impacts our food choices. Seeking an ideal balance between supply and demand could stabilize food prices over time. A food inflation rate of 10 per cent is just cruel and unsustainable, for both consumers and industry.

Up the food chain, AI is already alive and well. AI algorithms are helping farmers analyze soil, climate, and crop data to predict crop yields, optimize irrigation and fertilization schedules, and improve the efficiency of farming practices. Not all farmers are doing this, of course, but a growing number are.

It’s the same with the supply chain. AI can help predict supply chain disruptions, optimize delivery schedules, and reduce the effect of “shelflation” when a product’s shelf life is compromised by a supply chain issue.

With ChatGPT and other emerging chatbot websites, all of us will better understand what lies ahead. The food industry, especially grocers, will likely respond by embracing more technologies and using consumers as active participants. Scary but exciting at the same time.

But AI won’t have an answer for every challenge the food industry faces. Technology has no ethics or morals; today, food is all about ethics and morals. Food companies have always been caught in this skittish symmetry between traditions, cultures, and technologies. Using new advanced approaches cannot be done to the detriment of what food represents for consumers and communities. But that could change over time. OpenAI will change our world, as the internet did. And it has the potential to change the food industry as well.

Some predict that by 2050, one computer will have the capacity of all human brains on earth. Mindboggling. The food industry needs to be ready for this.

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

How generative AI is changing the future of customer service


The transition from overworked customer service staff to AI will happen quickly

Jana Boone
Troy Media

Since the emergence of ChatGPT, AI has suddenly become the talk of the town, with tech companies racing to deliver the best artificially intelligent chatbot. So much so that, by 2024, AI investment is predicted to reach more than US$500 billion.

Businesses aiming to engage clients online through quick and simple conversations are taking note. Chatbots can help close deals and keep customers happy by giving them individualized responses based on their unique requirements.

A recent study predicted that the percentage of customer interactions handled by AI in call centers will rise from two per cent in 2022 to more than 15 per cent by 2026, then double to 30 per cent by 2031. It’s fair to say the increase could be much higher given the quick adoption of and rapid developments in AI over the past few years.

Excellent 24/7 customer service has been demonstrated by companies like AirBnB. They have an Urgent Support Line which gives hosts and guests a quick way to contact a group of highly skilled safety and crisis professionals in a matter of seconds when they are encountering specific time-sensitive circumstances. As a result, customers today naturally expect a flawless experience. A brand’s retention rates can be significantly impacted by poor service. Accordingly, Forbes estimates that poor customer service costs companies US$62 billion annually.

Reuters reported that ChatGPT is the fastest-growing consumer application of all time. Businesses are pondering how AI-powered tools can help ensure a seamless customer experience, such as by responding to customer questions in a personalized, conversational way. This will undoubtedly increase customers’ appetites for more.

Through the use of generative AI, businesses can contact customers with individualized product suggestions, allowing them to leverage a customer’s web browsing and shopping habits, as well as demographic data. These suggestions may be delivered to the user on a website, mobile app, email, or text message.

Combining ChatGPT’s eloquence and language ability with traditional chatbots is the newest key to success. Large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT will change the perception of chatbots from being cumbersome, impersonal, and flawed to being built using algorithms that are so precise that the old, traditional methods are now entirely out of date.

We’ve all encountered clumsy chatbots with few options for dialogue that produce painfully robotic phrases. Low-functioning chatbots are already being phased out, but as a result of this experience, standards will now soar to new heights and the transition from overworked staff to AI will happen quickly.

Furthermore, marketing campaigns specifically tailored to each consumer may be made with the aid of generative AI, which can analyze customer data to find patterns and categories. When a potential customer feels like they are communicated to personally by a brand, they will likely see the ad as authentic rather than just another campaign to skip past. The likelihood of these ads being successful can be increased by targeting particular client groups according to their demographics, interests, or past purchases.

When a product is being developed, the decisions behind it may be informed by AI’s capacity to discover customer behaviours and trends more quickly than a human could. If that happens, a majority of businesses will likely use generative AI to develop customized campaigns that increase engagement and customer retention rates by utilizing this data to better understand the demands of their customers.

Using AI may improve customer service for organizations by improving customer awareness, enabling quicker responses to queries, and producing experiences that are customized to each customer’s requirements and expectations.

Businesses can also track how their whole customer experience strategy is working, leveraging AI to determine whether a consumer is happy with their product by using automated sentiment analysis operating natural language processing. As a result, they are able to enhance their customer relationship management tactics and give their client-facing workers more beneficial training and feedback.

In the race to stay competitive and best-in-class, leaders, teams, and consumers will all be impacted by the transformation of customer-facing business processes brought about by generative AI technologies. It’s all about ChatGPT right now, but this is just the start of what AI can do for businesses.

Jana Boone is Senior Vice President of Marketing at Bottle Rocket.

Canada Revenue Agency raking in more taxes thanks to shrinkflation


It is unacceptable that, with “shrinkflation, consumers get less and are taxed more

Sylvain Charlebois

Troy Media

As if shrinkflation wasn’t painful enough for all of us, it looks like the taxman is making shrinking packages even more painful for our wallets.

Shrinkflation occurs when a food manufacturer reduces quantities but continues to sell the product at the same price. We have seen this happening pretty much everywhere in all sections of the grocery store. It’s even happening in the fresh section, with strawberries and blueberries.

The Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) has provisions that make some smaller products taxable that aren’t in their larger forms. This policy is not new: it actually dates back to 2007, when the GST/HST Memorandum was revised. Some articles of the memo even existed back in 1997.

But what is new is the number of products now subject to this Tax Act due to reduced quantities. An increasing number of products, hundreds, are now taxed that weren’t before.

The Act’s policy section Schedule VI, Part III clearly defines a snack and the meaning of a single serving. For instance, the threshold for ice cream is 500 millilitres. Anything below that means the product is taxable as it is considered a snack, not as part of basic groceries. Cakes, muffins, pies, pastries, tarts, cookies, doughnuts, brownies, croissants with sweetened filling or coating, or similar products are all taxable if quantities are reduced below the thresholds specified by the Act.

If food items are pre-packaged for sale to consumers in quantities of less than six items, these products are taxed. Grocery shopping is complicated enough, but now, due to shrinkflation, consumers have to worry about how much more they need to pay. Depending on the province you live in, it could add five to 13 per cent more to the price tag of some products you’re buying. And chances are, you have likely never noticed.

Consumers are being double slammed by the industry and the taxman, in most cases, without knowing it. By “shrinkflating” a product, consumers get less and are taxed more. Just great.

CRA’s GST/HST Memorandum 4.3 on taxable food products includes 156 articles. Few will ever understand or even know how to interpret the Act and appreciate how it applies to the 18,000 to 25,000 food products you can find in a regular grocery store. Knowing how many items were taxed in compliance with the law is practically impossible.

A recent survey conducted by Dalhousie University, in partnership with Caddle, shows that 67 per cent of Canadians have found at least one mistake on their grocery receipt in the last year. That is an astonishing number. And according to the same survey, only 9.2 per cent have seen tax on a food item that shouldn’t have been taxed. The true number is likely much higher. One can only assume that many consumers wouldn’t have been able to pick up on mistakes related to taxable items. The law is incredibly confusing for everyone. Even some grocers have admitted to having made mistakes and having applied taxes on food products when they shouldn’t have.

With shrinkflation, many products which are now taxed find their way into lunchboxes for school children. Most of these products were designed to bring convenience to our lives, but paying more taxes is certainly not what most consumers would consider convenient.

Food at the grocery store should never be taxed unless it is serviced to be consumed right away. Or, at the very minimum, the Act should be changed to exempt smaller single servings and packages that include less than six items.

Skrinkflation has been around for well over 30 years, perhaps even longer. The strategy has angered many consumers for obvious reasons. With food inflation at a 40-year-high, most consumers are blaming the industry for their ills at the grocery store.

Yet many tend to forget how our own fiscal regime also makes our food more expensive. For example, the carbon tax, which impacts food affordability through the supply chain, will rise to $65 a metric ton on Apr. 1 and will reach $170 a metric ton by 2030. It is incumbent that Canadians know how the policy will influence our food bill over time.

But while the carbon tax is hidden, sales taxes are very real for all of us. Higher food costs due to more taxes adds insult to injury. This is not unacceptable.

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

A provincial remedy to the excesses of medical assisted suicide


Decriminalizing “Medical Assistance in Dying” (MAiD) in 2016 apparently confirmed a powerful social bias in favour of personal freedom. Presented as a free choice – affecting no one else – euthanasia seemed acceptable to most Canadians.

However, this tells only part of the story, for euthanasia is not only about death by choice; it is also defined as high-priority medical care. Unfortunately, like a new organism released in an established ecosystem, the arrival of euthanasia could not fail to affect every detail of the medical environment.

First of all, it is an ethical requirement for doctors to inform patients of all available treatment options. This means informing each patient of their “right” to access euthanasia (MAiDs). The typical non-suicidal patient is thus immediately confronted with the possibility of assisted death, in the same way that one is confronted by an open elevator shaft or a missing guardrail. Suddenly a danger exists which must be consciously avoided.

Nor does the threat end there. Doctors are expected to proactively prescribe optimal treatment (to which the patient normally consents), but some doctors are very partial to euthanasia. It is thus to be expected that many patients will succumb to the suggestion of these “professionals,” even though they would never have spontaneously thought, themselves, to request assisted death.

Indeed, it is not easy to fix a clear boundary between the legitimate professional duty to convince recalcitrant patients of what is truly best for them, and the abusive application of “undue influence” in proposing death as treatment. Certainly, this is a slippery slope!

Roger Foley, for example, eloquently describes being offered euthanasia on multiple occasions during a prolonged hospital stay caused by his inability to obtain adequate care at home. Eventually, hospital staff informed Foley that he would either have to pay an exorbitant daily fee or be discharged without the care he needed to survive. Accounts of this situation were naturally greeted with outrage by the press. But there also remains a sort of perverse logic in defence of the hospital based on the medical definition of MAiD. By refusing euthanasia, Foley had effectively refused the proposition of a perfectly legitimate medical treatment, which would normally lessen the hospital’s responsibility towards him considerably.

Similarly, in the now-famous scandal of Canadian veterans being offered MAiD for PTSD, we must remember that Bill C-7 authorizes euthanasia for mental illness without any physical issues. Therefore, while many Canadians might agree that the offending caseworker behaved misguidedly, no one in authority has affirmed that veterans will not be euthanized for PTSD. Quite the contrary: in today’s legal and medical setting, it is a virtual certainty that they will be offered MAiD.

To suggest that human life should be ended according to medical criteria is an entirely different proposition from saying that people might be allowed to seek assistance in death of their own free will. As euthanasia is increasingly institutionalized, and as a younger generation of professionals becomes fully adjusted to its “medical” use, we must expect that typical patients will face an increasingly hostile clinical environment if they do not accept the recommended treatment. We are witnessing the transition of our entire health-care system to a new utilitarian model that is totally at odds with traditional assumptions of life-affirming care.

This is not what Canadians thought they were getting. And more importantly, there has been no serious debate about making such a radical change.

Happily, one glimmer of hope is to be found in the fact that health is a provincial responsibility; that just as Quebec was able to define euthanasia as medical care, so other provinces can revisit their decision. And without being able to prohibit euthanasia entirely (an exclusively federal power), each province and territory can permit or forbid euthanasia in any institution under its authority. They are free to decide whether their funds will support euthanasia, and free to regulate the behaviour of health professionals.

These are very serious concerns. Health care consumes nearly a full third of all government spending. Do Canadians wish to pay for a system that will care for us when needed? Or do we want to pay for a system designed to bury us at the lowest possible cost?

Gordon Friesen has been following the assisted death question closely since the early nineteen-nineties and is currently President of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition.