University of Guelph researchers used AI technology to predict the rising costs of groceries for 2024.
The Canada’s Food Price Report found food prices could rise from 2.5 to 4.5 per cent next year, said a press release from the U of G. The increase is less than what was predicted for 2023 which was an increase of five to seven per cent.
This means for a family of four it would be an increase of $701.79.
This may not be “the news some people were hoping for. I think some people are really hoping for food price decreases,” said Kristina Kupferschmidt, U of G PhD student and contributor to the report, in an interview.
The report was a collaboration between the U of G’s Arrell Food Institute, the Vector Institute in Toronto and Dalhousie’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab.
Things contributing to food prices are complex and food categories have many moving parts, Kupferschmidt said.
Her research is around the interaction of “real people using AI to make decisions,” she said.
Transformer-based machine learning models in the same vein as ChatGPT were used to predict and combine models to get an accurate reading, said the release.
Kupferschmidt thinks the report does a nice job of highlighting a good example that AI can be used collaboratively to enhance experts, rather than replace them.
This method had a notable increase of accuracy as it was being tested, she said.
Climate, geopolitical factors, employment rates and the economy were elements used to help the research team with price predictions.
Using these factors, data, and machine learning the team presented different variables to U of G food economists to predict what food costs could be next year, said Kupferschmidt.
Canadians spent less on food and beverage by 3.26 per cent in 2023, said in the release. It suggested people may have reduced the quality of the food they purchased or reduced the amount they bought.
Kuperschmidt said bakery, meat and vegetables could all increase in price next year.
She put an emphasis on climate impacting food prices. In 2023 there were wildfires, droughts and floods, she said.
Capturing climate change in the report using U of G’s model and other universities’ models in the report was important, she said.
Grocers are experiencing higher costs in transportation, Kuperschmidt said.
The release emphasized Canada had the third lowest food inflation rate of the G7 countries.
“It's complicated, but it does seem like … the data is not currently aligning with this idea that profiteering is happening,” she said.
There’s this culture of distrust where people feel like they are being taken advantage of, said Kuperschmidt.
“They're going to have to do more to try and make things more transparent regarding changes in pricing,” she said.
“So predicting things can be very hard. We're living in a changing world and data can only tell us half the story. Data can only tell us what's happened before and now we're kind of seeing things we've never seen before."