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Halloween supply issues could be haunted by ‘huge demand’



The Halloween mood on Baruch Labunski’s Toronto street has been eerie the last two years — and not in a witches-and-goblins way.

“Throughout the pandemic nobody really put up decorations and there were hardly any kids,” he said.

This year, pumpkins have been sitting on his neighbours’ doorsteps since early September and his son has already picked out a costume.

“It feels like we’re getting back to normal,” he said. “I think Halloween is going to be bigger than ever.”

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After two years of COVID-19 restrictions curbing Halloween, Canadians are expected to ramp up celebrations this year.

But the rising cost of goods and ongoing supply chain issues could put a kink in demand for costumes, candy and decorations.

New research by the Retail Council of Canada suggests 86 per cent of Canadians will spend the same or more on Halloween this year compared with last year, with many making purchases a month ahead of time.

Consumers also appear willing to open their wallets for a trendy new costume or to stock up on candy, with more than half of Canadians celebrating planning to spend more than $50.

“I think Halloween will be met by huge demand,” said Tandy Thomas, an associate professor at Queen’s University’s Smith School of Business.

“Halloween spending will likely mimic the strong consumption behaviour we’ve seen on travel and restaurants in recent months. There’s a lot of kids that haven’t really been out trick-or-treating for two years that will be itching to get back out there.”

That being said, Canadians feeling the pinch of soaring inflation may give out fewer treats, turn off the porch lights early or opt out of Halloween altogether.

Shoppers may also feel squeezed by so-called shrinkflation in the candy aisle — manufacturers putting fewer chips in a bag or candies in a box but still charging the same price.

“You could see more dark houses if people are concerned about costs and decide not to participate,” retail analyst Bruce Winder said.

The potential strong demand paired with ongoing supply chain constraints could also lead to some empty store shelves — especially later in October.

Part of the issue facing manufacturers and retailers is that forecasts are unreliable, Winder said.

“The toughest part of supply chains is predicting demand,” he said. “But that’s especially difficult to do right now because every season is a new way that consumers are behaving as they navigate through the pandemic.”

Depending on how demand unfolds, the potential scarcity could be particularly acute in the candy aisle.

“I think there could be supply shortages,” Thomas said. “It’s going to be harder for retailers to procure the inventory, which means there’s probably not going to be as much excess and deep discounting on Nov. 1.”

Also, running to a drugstore Halloween night to replenish supplies might not be an option for people who underestimate the number of trick-or-treaters they’ll receive, she said.

The Hershey Co. CEO Michele Buck said recently that “capacity is constrained” in some parts of the company’s portfolio.

The maker of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups has prioritized on-shelf availability of its everyday products to meet growing demand in that area, but has had to limit seasonal items, she said.

“We had opportunity to deliver more Halloween, but we weren’t able to supply that,” Buck said during an earnings call in July.

Hershey’s spokeswoman Allison Kleinfelter said despite capacity constraints, the company has made more Halloween candy this year than last year.

But she still recommends shopping early.

“For the past two years, consumers have been buying seasonal candy earlier than in the past,” Kleinfelter said. “This means that often a week before the actual holiday, seasonal packages can be harder to come by.”

Retail Council of Canada spokeswoman Michelle Wasylyshen said the best advice for consumers is to shop early.

“We have heard from some retailers that they’ve had a lot of supply chain challenges with this year’s Halloween products in that suppliers were not able to provide requested quantities,” she said.

“This means that there could be fewer quantities available for several key Halloween products.”

Labunski in Toronto said he isn’t concerned about shortages despite an expected Halloween rebound.

“I do think people are going to go all-out and so retailers may be sold out of some of the popular stuff,” he said. “But I can just buy something else.”

Spirit Halloween, one of the largest retailers of costumes, said it has a full assortment of costumes, decorations and accessories.

“We work year-round to develop must-have looks, and 2022 is shaping up to be an incredible year,” Steven Silverstein, CEO of Spirit Halloween, said in a statement.

When it comes to costumes and decorations, Canadians worried about inflation might come up with creative ways to cut costs this year.

“We’ll see some bargain hunting,” Thomas said. “People may sew a costume by hand or look for a used costume.”

People will also cut back on less essential items, Winder said.

“They might reuse decor from previous years or buy it at Dollarama to save money.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 2, 2022. 

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Consumer debt tops $2.36 trillion in third quarter, up 7.3 per cent from last year



Equifax Canada says an increase in borrowers helped push total consumer debt to $2.36 trillion in the third quarter for a 7.3 per cent rise from last year, even as mortgage volumes decline.

It says average non-mortgage debt rose to $21,183 for the highest level since the second quarter of 2020, with early signs of strain starting to show in auto loans and credit cards.

Overall non-mortgage debt came in at $599.9 billion for a 5.3 per cent climb from last year, and up 1.9 per cent from the third quarter of 2019, as the number of borrowers rose by 3.1 per cent.

Rebecca Oakes, Equifax Canada’s head of advanced analytics, says the rising debt stems from a combination of growth from immigration, pent-up spending, as well as increased borrowing as consumers feel the strain of higher living costs.

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Credit card spending in the quarter was up 17.3 per cent from last year to an all-time high for the time period.

Average spending put on credit cards was almost $2,447, a 21.8 per cent jump from the third quarter of 2019.

There’s been an increase in credit card spending and new cards issued across all consumer segments, including the sub-prime segments, said Oakes in a statement.

She said there are some signs that borrowers are starting to have trouble covering the bills, with average payment rates for those who carry a balance down from a year ago, she said.

“Consumers have been making strong payments, but we are starting to see a shift in payment behaviour especially for credit card revolvers — those who carry a balance on their card and don’t pay it off in full each month.”

Delinquencies on auto loans have also started to trend up, especially those opened since late 2021, she said.

The overall rate of more than 90 day delinquencies for non-mortgage debt was 0.93 per cent, up from 0.87 last year, though insolvencies are still well below pre-pandemic levels.

New mortgage volume dropped 22.7 per cent in the quarter compared with last year and by 14.9 per cent compared with the third quarter of 2019. First-time home buyers are paying over $500 more for almost the same loan amounts as first-time buyers last year.

Overall insolvency rates are up from a year ago but from a relatively low starting point, and there are some areas of concern including a rise in consumer proposals by seniors, said Oakes.

“The true impact of interest rate hikes could be visible by the end of 2023.”

 This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 6, 2022.

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Trudeau, Ford mark opening of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle plant



The Canadian Press

Published Monday, December 5, 2022 5:06AM EST

Last Updated Monday, December 5, 2022 1:17PM EST

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford are celebrating the opening today of Canada’s first full-scale electric vehicle manufacturing plant.

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Trudeau says electric delivery vans have started rolling off the line today at the General Motors CAMI production plant in Ingersoll, Ont., which has been retooled to build the company’s BrightDrop all-electric vehicle brand.

The prime minister was joined by Ford and the province’s Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli to mark the milestone.

The provincial and federal governments each invested $259 million toward GM’s $2-billion plan to transform its Ingersoll plant and overhaul its Oshawa, Ont., plant to make it EV-ready.

The federal government says the Ingersoll plant is expected to manufacture 50,000 electric vehicles by 2025.

Canada intends to bar the sale of new internal-combustion engines in passenger vehicles by 2035.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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Food prices in Canada: Families to pay $1,065 more in 2023




Canadians won’t escape food inflation any time soon.

Food prices in Canada will continue to escalate in the new year, with grocery costs forecast to rise up to seven per cent in 2023, new research predicts.

For a family of four, the total annual grocery bill is expected to be $16,288 — $1,065 more than it was this year, the 13th edition of Canada’s Food Price Report released Monday said.

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A single woman in her 40s — the average age in Canada — will pay about $3,740 for groceries next year while a single man the same age would pay $4,168, according to the report and Statistics Canada.

Food inflation is set to remain stubbornly high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Vegetables could see the biggest price spikes, with estimates pegging cost increases will rise as high as eight per cent, the report said.

In addition to currency risks, much of the produce sold in Canada comes from the United States, which has been struggling with extremely dry conditions.

“The western U.S., particularly California, has seen strong El Nino weather patterns and droughts and bacterial contaminations, and that’s impacted our fruit and vegetable suppliers and prices,” said Simon Somogyi, campus lead at the University of Guelph and professor at the Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics.

“The drought is making the production of lettuce more expensive,” he said. “It’s reducing the crop size but it’s also causing bacterial contamination, which is lessening the supply in the marketplace.”

Prices in other key food categories like meat, dairy and bakery are predicted to soar up to seven per cent, the researchers found.

The Canadian Dairy Commission has approved a farm gate milk price increase of about 2.2 per cent, or just under two cents per litre, for Feb. 1, 2023.

“The increase for February is reasonable but it comes after the unprecedented increases in 2022, which are continuing to work their way through the supply chain,” Charlebois said of the two price hikes of nearly 11 per cent combined in 2022.

Meanwhile, seafood is expected to increase up to six per cent, while fruit could increase up to five per cent, the report said.

Restaurant costs are expected to increase four to six per cent, less than supermarket prices, the report said.

Rising prices will push food security and affordability even further out of reach of Canadians a year after food bank use reached a record high, the report said.

The increasing reliance on food banks is expected to continue, with 20 per cent of Canadians reporting they will likely turn to community organizations in 2023 for help feeding their families, a survey included in the report found.

Use of weekly flyers, coupons, bulk buying and food rescuing apps also ticked up this year and is expected to continue growing in 2023, the report said.

“We’re in the era now of the smart shopper,” said Somogyi, also the Arrell Chair in the Business of Food.

“For certain generations, it’s the first time that they’ve had to make a list, not impulse buy, read the weekly flyers, use coupons, buy in volume and freeze what they don’t use.”

Last year’s report predicted food prices would increase five to seven per cent in 2022 — the biggest jump ever predicted by the annual food price report.

Food costs actually far exceeded that forecast. Grocery prices were up 11 per cent in October compared with a year before while overall food costs were up 10.1 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

“We were called alarmists,” Charlebois said of the prediction that food prices could rise seven per cent in 2022. Critics called the report an “exaggeration,” he said.

“You’re always one crisis away from throwing everything out the window,” Charlebois said. “We didn’t predict the war in Ukraine, and that really affected markets.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 5, 2022.

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