As the cost of canola increases, restaurants try to innovate.
By Katrina Turchin | May 9, 2022
If you go out for brunch or for a juicy burger, you might notice that your side of fries looks a little smaller than usual. That’s because the cost to make them has skyrocketed.
“[The cost of canola oil] would fluctuate normally, like seven per cent then up three per cent. Normal sort of market fluctuations, I would guess,” says John Williams, co-owner of Blue Plate Diner. “And then August 21, the middle of the pandemic, it went up 43 per cent. From when I actually started to keep track in 2010, it’s been up 207 per cent.”
Williams has been tracking the cost of canola and every other ingredient the restaurant purchases over the last seven years in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet includes over 100 ingredients that Blue Plate has used in the past and currently uses, and Williams monitors the cost of production routinely.
“I know how much per ounce every single sauce costs to make, otherwise you’re flying blind if you don’t have anything to base your decisions on,” says Williams.
Canola oil used to be one of the cheaper oils to use, and olive oil was on the pricier side, but now they’ve almost leveled out. Over the last year, Williams experimented with an in-house olive oil blend as a replacement for canola oil in smaller recipes like sauces. However, the cost of olive oil is still slightly higher than canola oil, so it wasn’t as cost-effective as Williams hoped. Olive oil also has a lower smoking point than canola oil meaning it burns faster and isn’t as ideal to use in the deep fryer. Though the blend didn’t work out, Williams stresses the idea of being innovative when trying to cut costs.
“The point is that you’ve got to think outside the box,” says Williams. “Just because you’ve always used canola for the last five years or whatever, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t explore other options.”
Down the street, Northern Chicken serves upwards of 300 pieces of fried chicken a day, and double that on weekends.
“Everything’s doubled since the beginning of the pandemic, everything’s gone up huge,” says Andrew Cowan, head chef at Northern Chicken. “We estimate it probably cost us an extra $40,000 last year on just canola alone.”
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The fried chicken joint has three deep fryers, each of which requires 20 litres of canola oil. To break it down even further, the restaurant stocks up two or three times a week and uses hundreds of litres of oil in that same time period. How financially sustainable is this? Barely.
In January 2022, Northern Chicken announced to its customers on Twitter that it was slightly increasing the prices of menu items because of the cost of canola and other ingredients like flour, spices and chicken. The post states that prices hadn’t been touched for three years until now.
“We knew for a while and we were back and forth on it quite a bit because we’re in a pandemic and people were struggling,” says Cowan. “So, the idea of raising menu prices wasn’t very appealing to us, but there’s also a point where we can’t shoulder this load forever. We just got to the point where we had to do something and it doesn’t look like it’s going to come down imminently by any means.”
In April, canola prices reached $1,145 CAD per tonne. Three years ago, canola was at $455 a tonne. The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada market analysis for the Groups and Horticulture Division projects that canola prices will drop by 33 per cent over the next year to $800 per tonne. If that’s the case, canola prices will be the second highest ever recorded.
Back at Blue Plate Diner, Williams says they’ve barely touched the prices of items, raising the cost of some items by a few cents. Instead, if an item costs too much to make, they scrap it.
“Everything that goes in the deep fryer has to make you money,” says Williams. “Our last resort is to raise our prices.”
This article appears in the May 2022 issue of Edify