Recent COVID-19 restrictions are a reminder of what a difficult year 2020 was for Regina’s restaurant industry. Virtually all bars and restaurants were forced to adapt their ordering processes, lay off staff, and find new ways to reach customers, a trend which we are seeing return in full force as variants of the virus continue to spread. As we sit with the dismay of these closures, it may surprise many to learn that 2020 was, in fact, one of the best years on record for Regina’s broader food story.
Preliminary trade data from Statistics Canada show that in 2020, Saskatchewan posted its second highest exports of goods in the last 5 years, reaching $30.41 billion. This total was only surpassed by the $30.67 posted in 2016. This export growth stands out from the rest of the nation, as no other province in Canada with the exception of Nunavut and the Yukon Territories saw export increased in 2020. As the Canadian economy shrunk due to the pandemic, Saskatchewan’s export economy – particularly in the agricultural sector – continue to thrive.
In fact, according to data compiled by Saskatchewan Trade and Export (STEP), Saskatchewan agri-food exports grew by 31.4 percent over 2019, reaching $16.97 billion in 2020. Highlighted in this growth was the 95.9 percent increase in lentil exports. Moreover, oats, wheat, durum wheat, lentils, canola (seed and meal), peas, flax, soybeans, and barley all exceeded growth and sales expectations in 2020. Existing trends toward healthy eating and plant protein will only help increase the value of the sector.
Ultimately, not even COVID-19 can diminish the GRA’s position as a global food hub. There is even a light at the end of tunnel for Regina’s bars and restaurants, as total household disposable income growth has remained strong in the city throughout the pandemic. With any luck once shutdown measures are lifted, there will be a freshly vaccinated pool of customers ready to support the local culinary and hospitality industry once more. While restrictions may seem difficult to swallow, they are the vegetables we must finish in order to enjoy the rich dessert of Regina’s food future.