MONTREAL -- The average Canadian family's food bill is expected to increase by almost $500 in 2020, according to a report from Dalhousie University and the University of Guelph.

The report, Canada's Food Price Report, predicted food prices to climb 4 per cent next year. Lead author, Sylvain Charlebois, said it was the sharpest single-year increase he's seen since such data has been analyzed.

"This is our 10th edition; our 10th year that we are producing this report, and this is the highest amount of dollars that we have seen so far," he said. Climate change is largely to blame for expected increases in the price of meat, seafood and vegetables, he added. Droughts, early frosts and storms hurt crop yields and drive prices up.

Montreal grocery store manager Jacques Lecavalier said his store, Esposito's, was already feeling the strain of higher prices.

"It's going up, but every year it's going up, every month it's going up," he said, but added that his store generally absorbs the cost of higher goods to keep prices low for the customer. "The profit is not there. We used to have a good profit before, but we give that to the customer."

Many families already have trouble putting food on the table, the report's authors note. More hungry families will strain the Canadian economy, they added.

"This is a significant problem. Already one in eight Canadian households is food insecure and food affordability is a major issue for Canadians," said author Simon Somogyi from Guelph University. "Wage growth is stagnant. Canadians aren't making more money, so they're taking money away from other parts of their budgets just to eat and that gets tougher and tougher. The ever-increasing use of food banks across the country shows us how many Canadians can't afford to put food on their plates."  

In a statement, Dalhousie University noted that the report accurately predicted 2019 food price increases. To write the report, researchers analyzed past trends and used machine-learning algorithms, among other techniques.

“We were surprised by how accurate our 2019 forecast was, despite vegetable prices going up by 12 per cent rather than the predicted four to six per cent. Forecasting is not easy, and we have learned from our successes and failures over the last 10 years," Charlebois said in the statement.

With files from CTV Montreal's Matt Gilmour