We at the C.D. Howe Institute wish you a happy holiday season. We also wish we could wish you an affordable one. We asked how big a bite a holiday dinner for ten would take out of the average weekly wage of a worker in Canada, Australia, the UK and the United States. The painful answer is that the bite is biggest in Canada. The Canadian has to work hardest. Why? No surprise that the main differences are in supply managed goods – especially butter and turkey.
To come up with this estimate, we took to Instacart for Canada (No Frills in Toronto)/US (Publix in Florida), and online shopping at Sainsbury’s for the UK (London), and Woolworths (Australia) to shop for a nearly identical basket of holiday dinner fixings. We picked the lowest-cost basket item in each category based on the posted price per item, whether by package or by weight.
Turkey eats up more than half of the overall basket price in our countries. When shoppers are not able to buy these items on sale, the Canadian price stands out, particularly relative to shoppers in the UK and Australia. The pre-US Thanksgiving sale prices for turkey allowed shoppers there to see considerably lower prices than most Canadian shoppers would likely ever see. Canadian prices for butter, a key ingredient for decadent mashed potatoes and l vegetables that taste good, are also proportionally higher than those abroad.
Taking all these key ingredients together, a Canadian shopper looking to put together a holiday dinner basket pays the largest share of her average weekly income compared to shoppers in any of the other major peer countries. The overall price for a US shopper, converted to Canadian dollars, is higher. However, the average American has much higher income than a Canadian. If Canadians were more productive, perhaps if they were able to work with more and better tools and capital investment, the holiday dinner would be more affordable. Prices in the UK are lower than in Canada, though so are average incomes. But holiday dinner is still more relatively affordable there. Australians have nearly identical average incomes to Canadians and see comparable prices in most goods except for, you guessed it, butter and turkey!
This season we'll wish for lower food prices and more Canadian productivity growth for a more affordable holiday season in 2024.