Tag Archives: Beer

Are prices in Canada higher than in the United States?

I’ve noticed that many prices seem to be lower here in the United States than in Canada. Am I imagining it? With the help of my Canadian friend Annette (an experienced shopper), I decided to find out.

Methodology

I selected a basket of 20 common retail items (food, alcoholic beverages, and fuel), and compared the prices for these items in Vancouver, Canada (my home) and San Antonio, Texas (my location when this crazy idea struck me). Annette and I gathered regular retail prices (not sale prices) not including sales taxes from comparable retail outlets (to the extent that they are available in both cities) within a few days of each other. The American prices were converted to Canadian dollars at the current exchange rate. Where quantities or package sizes differed, the prices were adjusted to equivalent volumes.

Findings

The table below shows the items we checked, the U.S. price, the Canadian price, and the percentage difference of the Canadian price compared to the U.S. price.

Product U.S. Canada Percnt
Frosted Flakes (760g box) $3.92 $7.23 84.6%
Cheerios (396g box) $2.90 $5.02 73.3%
Milk (3.78L = 1 gallon) $4.32 $4.56 5.4%
Eggs (12 Large Grade A) $1.71 $2.63 53.5%
Coors Light beer (24×355 ml cans) $20.39 $43.99 115.7%
Corona Extra beer (12 x 330 ml bottles) $13.25 $25.69 93.9%
Yellowtail Cabernet Sauvignon (750 ml bottle, Australia) $5.07 $12.99 156.2%
Woodbridge Merlot (750 ml bottle, California) $8.64 $13.99 61.9%
Coca Cola (12 cans) $3.04 $5.97 96.4%
Coca Cola (2 Litre bottle) $1.41 $1.87 32.9%
Chicken thighs skin-on, bone in (per pound) $5.04 $4.98 -1.2%
Ground beef (85% lean, per pound) $3.25 $6.28 93.0%
Ground beef (89% lean, per pound) $3.79 $7.98 110.3%
Ground beef (93% lean, per pound) $5.08 $9.88 94.5%
Bananas (per pound) $0.49 $0.58 18.5%
Fuji Apples (per pound) $1.70 $1.19 -30.1%
Yellow Onions, medium (per pound) $2.43 $1.28 -47.3%
Russet Potatoes (per pound) $0.90 $0.48 -46.5%
Gasoline (regular, per Litre) $0.91 $1.34 47.9%
Diesel fuel (per Litre) $1.01 $1.41 39.4%

Analysis

Vancouverites are paying a lot more!

Of the 20 items on the list, 16 were more expensive in Canada. 3 produce items were significantly cheaper in Canada (apples, onions, & potatoes), and there was a trivial difference in the price of chicken thighs. All other items were between 5% and 156% more expensive in Canada.

The price differences were the biggest for wine and beer (61% to 156% higher). The probable reasons for this are: a government monopoly on alcohol distribution in British Columbia, high government taxes on alcoholic beverages, and restrictions and tariffs on importing alcohol into Canada.

Grocery items (other than the few that were cheaper) were between 5% (milk) and 110% (ground beef) more expensive in Vancouver, with the remaining 9 items between 18% (bananas) and 96% (Coca Cola) more expensive.

Vehicle fuel was priced 47% higher in Canada for regular gasoline and 38% higher for diesel fuel. This is due, in part, to higher taxes.

I recognize that this was a very limited sample size (20 items, 2 stores, 2 cities, none of which were randomly chosen), and so few general conclusions can be drawn from these results. But it does confirm my suspicions. In my experience, groceries, alcohol, and fuel are consistently more expensive in Canada than in the United States.

Why is this the case? What can Canadian consumers do about it? Stayed tuned for more on this topic.

Oktoberfest!

Welcome to the home of the $8 pretzel and beers big enough to sprain your wrist. The ultimate getaway for the beer lover, Oktoberfest is a huge spectacle. It wasn’t what I had expected — it was better! Oktoberfest is a dynamic blend of beer gardens, dinner theatre, a costume party, and a carnival, all mixed together with a history of rich tradition.

Patrick and Diane in front of Oktoberfest welcome sign

Oktoberfest began in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig was married to Princess Terese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The people of Munich were invited to attend the festivities held on the fields in front of the city gates to celebrate the happy event. The fields have been named Theresienwiese (“Theresa’s meadow”) in honor of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to “Wies’n”, a term that they also use to refer to Oktoberfest itself. The festival was eventually prolonged and moved ahead to September to take advantage of better weather conditions.

Oktoberfest is a 16 to 18 day beer festival held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany running from late September to the first weekend in October. It the world’s largest fair and an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since 1810 (202 times less 24 when it was canceled due to cholera epidemics, inflation, or war). Even better, starting this year, all beer tents were non-smoking.

The Wies’n is a huge paved area (103 acres) located near Munich’s center and is filled with midway rides and food stands. On either side of the main thoroughfare are 14 large ‘tents’ (each the size of an ice hockey arena) and 20 smaller tents. The tents, though impressive, are non-permanent structures which are constructed for and only used during the festival. Inside each of the tents are hundreds of tables jammed with thousands of people (including yours truly) drinking, eating, and singing their hearts out to the strains of live bands. Each of the tents has a unique flavour, with some more traditional and others more modern. In total there are approximately 100,000 seats for beer lovers to fill, and yet it’s still hard to get one.

Overlook of Oktoberfest tent with patrons

Overlook of our Oktoberfest 'tent'

Each year over 6.5 million visitors attend Oktoberfest, drinking over 7 million litres of beer (someone must not be drinking their share because my table drank a lot more than that!) In support of this massive beer bash are over 1000 toilets and 900 meters of urinals.

Many people, including a lot of tourists, sport traditional Bavarian clothes, lederhosen (leather pants) for the men and dirndl dresses for the women. During Oktoberfest (and even at other times of year) these traditional outfits can be seen being worn (and can be purchased) throughout Munich.

Women in Dirndle Dresses

Women in Dirndl Dresses

Only beer which is brewed within the city limits of Munich is allowed to be served at Oktoberfest. There are problems each year with young people who overestimate their ability to handle large amounts of brew. Many forget that Oktoberfest beer has 5.8 to 6.3% alcohol and a high sugar content (compared to an average of 5.2% alcohol and low sugar content in regular German beer), and they pass out. These drunk patrons are referred to as ‘Bierleichen’ (German for ‘beer corpses’).

Guy throwing up behind my friends
The guy throwing up behind my friends

After an unsuccessful Oktoberfest foray the night before, where we were unable to secure a seat in the packed main tents and instead drank a beer in the outdoor seating of a small satellite tent where a stranger threw up under the table behind my friends, we were more prepared and committed for the next evening’s sortie. We arrived in mid-afternoon and established our position at one of the prized tables in the unreserved seating areas of a popular tent. It is necessary to maintain one’s station and defend it against the waitresses who attempt to pack more people onto their tables in an effort to inflate their revenues, and from latecomers who troll the rough wooden floors of the hall seeking a seat. It also requires significant stamina as our beer drinking began around 3 PM and continued unabated for over 7 hours!

Diane and Patrick drinking beer

After an over-priced and unsatisfying meal of white sausage (Weisswurst) and sauerkraut shared with a friend, the band, seated on a large pedestal in the center of the tent, started playing the classic Oktoberfest tunes and a few new favorites. We stood on the benches more than we sat, pressing the flesh with the people on the tables behind us in a careful balancing act (kind of like an elevated mosh pit in lines). We belted out German songs we didn’t understand with people we didn’t know. For one night we relaxed and got silly with strangers.

Patrick looking silly

Most of the German songs are silly pop tunes from obscure bands, or old drinking ditties. Things that are catchy and easy to remember for singing along. They also sing some English songs, the variety and quality of which will give you an idea of what the German songs are like – Living Next Door to Alice (Smokie, 1976), I Will Survive (Gloria Gaynor, 1979), Country Roads (John Denver, 1971), Y.M.C.A. (Village People, 1979), Hey Baby (Margaret Cobb and Bruce Channel, 1961), Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond), Mambo No. 5 (Lou Bega, who was actually born in Munich!)

The shortest song and the one you hear most frequently is called “Ein Prosit”. The song ends with everyone standing and drinking. It is sung about every 15 minutes in order to keep the patrons well lubricated. The lyrics (translated to English) are “A toast, a toast, to the coziness of it all. Repeat. One, Two, Three – Drink Up!” Apparently it has more meaning in German, evoking feelings of social acceptance, belonging, being cheery and leaving your troubles at the door.

Patrick being support by friends on the way home
We get by with a little help from our friends

After many litres of beer, I stumbled out of the tent after 10 PM for the lengthy walk and tram ride back to the other tent where we were staying. The next morning while sitting in the restaurant feeling pleased that I wasn’t feeling worse, I was greeted by a young woman who said, “hello”. I didn’t recognize her but politely responded in kind. She then turned to my wife Diane and said, “He doesn’t remember me, does he?”

We’d been warned by some people (German and others) that Oktoberfest was too touristy and that we’re more likely to be sitting with Japanese tourists than Germans. Although there were a lot of tourists, most of them were German tourists, and we had a good time. The whole event seemed very authentic, even more so after a couple of beers.

Patrick’s Note – Attending Oktoberfest was one of the things on my Dreams List (also known as a ‘bucket list’). With no idea how or when it might occur, I wrote it down several years ago and now it has happened. Dream Big!

Bavarian Beer Halls and Beer Gardens

Bavaria is all the stereotypical images of Germany rolled into one. Lederhosen, oom-pah-pah-bands, sausage eating, and especially beer-drinking. They say when in Rome…

The Czech Republic drinks the most beer per capita in the world (159 litres per year) with Germany a respectable third (110 litres per year) after Ireland. However, if Bavaria were its own country, they would beat out the Czechs by drinking an astonishing 170 litres per year! Although Canada fashions itself a beer drinking country (“I am Canadian”), we are light-weights compared to these champions. Canada ranks in 22nd place drinking only 68.3 litres per person per year. Tell that to your accuser the next time they criticize you for drinking too much beer! Source: Wikipedia – Beer consumption by country

The monks of Bavaria are the traditional brewers of beer here, with secret recipes being handed down for hundreds of years. They still own some of the breweries and beer halls today. The first beer hall we visited was Augustiner Brau in Salzburg, Austria (not technically Bavaria, but close by). It has 4 huge rooms, one of which is non-smoking, which seat up to 2800 people in total. This beer house was founded by the Augustinian monks, and the image of Jesus adorns each room (perhaps they’re hoping to keep intoxicated visitors on their best behaviour). Beer is poured directly from large casks to thirsty patrons waiting in line with empty crockery steins.

Diane waiting for Beer At Augustiner Brauhaus in Salzberg

A Thirsty Patron

 

Upper floor of the Hofbräuhaus where Hitler spoke

Upper floor of the Hofbräuhaus where Hitler spoke

Bavaria, in the southern part of Germany, has a plethora of beer halls (known as “Brauhaus”). Many of these are hundreds of years old with rich histories. The most famous of Bavarian beer halls is the Hofbräuhaus in Munich. Founded by the Duke of Bavaria, Wilhelm V, they have been serving beer there since 1589 (that’s 423 years of continuous beer drinking!) In the early days, it was a place for men only. It is doubtful that women would have wanted to participate anyhow due to the cursing and the fighting and the vomiting. Also, the tables had troughs underneath so the guys could urinate without leaving their seat, allowing a near continuous flow of beer in and out. Another example of German ingenuity and practicality. In the early 20th Century the upper floor of the Hofbräuhaus was also the meeting place of the fledgling Nazi party, and on February 24, 1920, Adolf Hitler proclaimed the twenty-five theses of the National Socialist program at the Hofbräuhaus, which reconstituted the German Workers’ Party as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, also known as the Nazi Party. Today the Hofbräuhaus is primarily filled with tourists drinking expensive beer in large steins.

Munich is home to the largest beer gardens I’ve ever seen. Every park seems to have one or more. Beer gardens of up to 7000 people are commonplace. In order to be an official beer garden, three things are required — it must serve beer, it must be in Bavaria, and it must have chestnut trees. Bier gardens were traditionally located on top of the underground cellars where the beer kegs were stored. People drank beer there because that’s where the beer was! The casks were winched up from below, tapped on the spot, and people stood around drinking beer setting their glasses on the beer kegs (it was only later that tables and chairs were added). Why chestnut trees you ask? Chestnut trees have broad leaves and shallow roots and were planted on top of the underground beer cellars to keep them cool in summer.

Diane enjoying beer and a pig's knuckle in a Munich beer garden

Diane enjoying a pig's knuckle for breakfast

The disadvantage of Chestnut trees is that they randomly release hazardous projectiles each year around this time. Diane was hit on the hand in our first week here resulting in a bruise. And one night in Munich she sustained a direct hit into her beer glass which exploded sending shards of glass into our meals.

Diane eating dinner with broken glass from fallen chestnut

Notice how Diane’s glass is half the height of the others.

A nice thing about beer gardens (other than the beer of course) is that you’re allowed to bring your own food. This is done to appease the local merchants who know that the beer gardens attract so many people that to restrict outside food would affect their sales. Presumably the beer gardens are making lots of money from the beer anyhow. 500 ml and 1 Litre sell for about $5 and $10 respectively with no price advantage for buying the larger size.

The Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 (the Reinheitsgebot) allowed beer made in Bavaria to contain only 3 things — water, barley, and hops. German breweries continue to adhere to a slightly expanded version of this law today (wheat can now be used and a couple of additional ingredients are allowed depending on the type of beer being brewed). This law was originally put in place to prevent price competition between bakeries and brewers for wheat. The restriction of beer grains to barley was meant to ensure sufficient supply of wheat for baking bread. Hops adds flavour to beer but also acts as a natural preservative, and it was required by the Purity Law to prevent other inferior types of problematic preservatives from being used (for example soot or stinging nettles). Those of you with a science or brewing background may notice that a critical component of beer is missing. That’s because it was not until the 1800’s that Louis Pasteur discovered the role of microorganisms in fermentation, so it was not known that YEAST was a required ingredient of beer. However brewers traditionally added some sediment into each batch from the previous fermentation which provided the necessary organisms. If this was not available they would put the beer in multiple vats allowing natural yeast to inoculate the brew.

The undisputed champion of beer drinking locales is the city of Munich which, in addition to Oktoberfest, has beer festivals for over 30 weeks each year. The current pope, in addition to re-distributing child abusers, was Cardinal in Munich in the 1990’s and was known to drink beer with the locals. Because the tables are usually full, we’ve found the beer halls to be an excellent place to talk with the local people. What better way to interact with the locals than over a big stein of beer!
Patrick enjoying a beer in the Englisher Garten