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Grocery prices in Canada: Why chicken is so much more expensive here than in the U.S.

A recent viral TikTok comparing the price of four chicken thighs in the U.S. and in Canada actually has a very simple explanation, one expert says.

TikTok video compares price of chicken in Canada vs. U.S.
TikTok video compares price of chicken in Canada vs. U.S.

A recent viral TikTok comparing grocery prices in the U.S. and in Canada actually has a very simple explanation, one expert says: Supply management.

TikTok user @trash_pandaaaaa shared a recent grocery haul from Loblaws. He shows a package of four pieces of organic boneless, skinless chicken thighs, priced at $13.65. Next, he shows a pack of chicken thighs bought from a Target store in the U.S. for $3.55.

“Converted to Canadian, that’s about $4.50,” he says. “I told y’all they’re fleecing us…might as well grow our own chickens now.”

Nicholas Li, an assistant professor of economics at Toronto Metropolitan University, notes that comparing the price of chicken bought here and the U.S. is a complicated issue.

That’s because certain industries in Canada, like poultry, dairy and milk, fall under supply management, which impacts how much suppliers are allowed to produce in the country, along with how much importers can transport into the country.

“They limit the amount that’s produced in Canada and extremely limit the amount that’s allowed to be brought in,” Li tells Yahoo Canada.

The Dairy Farmers of Canada are recommending that an upcoming adjustment to the farmgate price of milk be delayed amid ongoing food inflation and pressure on the food industry to stabilize prices. Milk and dairy products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in Aylmer, Que., on Thursday, May 26, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
The Dairy Farmers of Canada are recommending that an upcoming adjustment to the farmgate price of milk be delayed amid ongoing food inflation and pressure on the food industry to stabilize prices. Milk and dairy products are displayed for sale at a grocery store in Aylmer, Que., on Thursday, May 26, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

According to the National Farmers Union, this helps prevent shortages and keeps under-priced imports from being “dumped” into Canadian markets.

Li notes that Canada and the U.S. both subsidize their farmers, just in different ways. While the U.S. provides subsidies for its producers, Canada subsidizes farmers by protecting them from competition and allowing them to charge higher prices.

The higher price of chicken is maintained as a result of severe restrictions on what can be brought back from the U.S. into Canada, or imported, Li says.

According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, Canadians can bring 20 kilograms of fresh, frozen and chilled chicken back from the U.S. However, in light of outbreaks of avian flu, these products must be retail packaged, intended for human consumption, and clearly labelled as a "Product of the USA."

Li says bringing back any more than the allotted amount of chicken is subject to a tariff of 270%.

That steep percentage is intentional, as it's meant to prevent wholesale importing or selling chicken to equalize the prices.

“So while we can get a good deal on U.S. chicken and go cross border shopping for yourself, you can’t really do enough to have an impact on the national price,” he says.

Li adds that there are products that are sometimes cheaper in Canada compared to the U.S., where inflation has hit harder.

"In general, meat and produce that is not subject to supply management - including potatoes, fruits and vegetables, fish, and beef - are sometimes cheaper in Canada," Li says. "This is especially likely when the goods in question are produced here."

Groceries are shown at Summerhill Market in Toronto on Wednesday February 2, 2022. The mere thought of grocery shopping causes so much anxiety for Jaimee Aragones that she avoids entering stores knowing she would return home without some food she can no longer afford for her kids. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Groceries are shown at Summerhill Market in Toronto on Wednesday February 2, 2022. The mere thought of grocery shopping causes so much anxiety for Jaimee Aragones that she avoids entering stores knowing she would return home without some food she can no longer afford for her kids. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Is grocery shopping in the U.S. worth it?

For those looking to do their grocery shopping south of the border, there are a few things to keep in mind. According to the Canada Border Service Agency, Canadians can bring back goods worth $200, tax and duty free, after being away for 24 hours. If you’re staying 48 hours, that goes up to $800. If you’re doing a same-day cross-border shopping trip, there are no personal exemptions, so be ready to pay tax on those items and possibly duty.