Canadians Worried about Shopping at Grocery Stores Amid COVID-19: Study

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A new cross-Canada study conducted polled more than 1,000 Canadians on how they are reacting to the COVID-19 outbreak. Overall, results indicated concern which included consumers being worried about venturing out into physical spaces, including grocery retailers.

The study was conducted by Dalhousie University in partnership with Angus Reid. Based on results, 71 percent of Canadians are generally concerned about the outbreak, while seven percent expressed that they are not sure how to feel.

Those polled in Quebec indicated that they are most concerned about the outbreak, at 79 percent, while 40 percent of Saskatchewan residents said that they are worried.

As part of the survey, Canadians were asked if they were concerned about potential health risks when going to a grocery store. In total, 65 percent of Canadians reported to be concerned about risks and lack of social distancing at the supermarket. The most concerned were in Ontario, coming in at 73 percent, whereas only 44 percent of Saskatchewan residents claimed to be perturbed.


Out of the 65 percent of concerned Canadians, a total of 57 percent of them are still taking the risk and buying groceries for themselves, whereas five percent have asked others to go to the grocery store for them. Somewhat surprisingly, only three percent of Canadians have opted to buy groceries online — we had expected the number to be much higher. This may be due to lack of trust and a fear that the necessary precautions may not be taken amongst grocery store staff or delivery drivers.

In a bid to lower the anxiety slightly, an initiative to accommodate the elderly and most vulnerable has been sweeping the nation over the past few days. On Monday, Galen Weston, the executive chairman of Loblaw Companies, announced that some of his company’s Loblaws grocery stores and Shopper Drug Mart pharmacies would open early for seniors and people living with disabilities so they can shop before the crowds.

“We all agree that food and drug stores are essential services and we must do what we need to in order to keep them operating and serving every community in the days and weeks ahead,” he wrote in a statement.


Loblaws is not alone in this movement. Pusateri’s Fine Foods declared that all of its locations, except for the one inside the CF Toronto Eaton Centre below Saks Fifth Avenue, would open early for the elderly and high-risk citizens. In addition, Longo’s is offering a “community wellbeing hour” for seniors in all Toronto locations from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. every morning.

Across the country, grocery stores are doing their best to create a safe environment for people to shop. In Edmonton, Sobeys Belmont took measures to ensure seniors were looked after by reserving 50 percent of its toilet paper stock for them after people had previously cleared out shelves and stockpiled packages with little concern for those more vulnerable.

The Dalhousie survey also asked Canadians if they had made any food provisions as a result of the pandemic. A total of 41 percent of them declared that they had made provisions as a result of the current situation. That means that more than half of the population, at 59 percent, have not bought anything since the start of the outbreak.


Manitoba residents ranked highest in terms of the greatest number of consumers having bought provisions, with 52 percent of those polled in the province taking precautions early. Based on the survey results, despite their heightened concerns, only 31 percent of Quebecers bought provisions in wake of the situation.

The survey showed some food categories ranking higher in popularity than others. Of the Canadians who bought provisions, 30 percent purchased dry and canned goods, followed by 24 percent who focused on non-food items such as toilet paper, sanitary products, and tissues. Frozen foods were also at 24 percent. Results showed that 15 percent of Canadians who bought provisions also purchased either comfort foods and/or pet food.

The Atlantic Region saw the highest rate of consumers buying “other non-food items,” at 33 percent.


The survey also reported that a total of 63 percent of Canadians already had provisions at home before the outbreak, with the highest rate being in Manitoba at 68 percent, and the lowest in Ontario at 61 percent.

Over the past week, Canadian grocery stores have seen an unprecedented amount of panic buying. Hoards of customers are depleting the store shelves of food, toilet paper, and cleaning supplies, despite the government and industry experts promising that food shortages will not be an issue for the Canadian public.

Marc Fortin, president at the Retail Council of Canada in Quebec, said that the only concern will be the lack of variety available to people, but “warehouses are getting their goods delivered, and orders are coming in.”


The panic buying is unnecessary and potentially putting some at a higher risk. Sylvain Charlebois, professor at Dalhousie University and conductor of the Dalhousie study, said “rationing is absolutely appropriate when you’re dealing with a situation like this. It’s important for grocers to discipline demand as much as possible, and this is the one power they have.”

People are being encouraged to only buy what they need with the promise that the shops will not run out. Galen Weston has noted that “our supply chain and store teams are responding to the spikes in volume and quickly getting the most important items back on the shelf,” and is encouraging consumers to “shop online if possible.”

Canadians were also asked about risks in food service and their feelings regarding visiting restaurants and cafes. Surprisingly, only 26 percent of Canadians stated that they were concerned about going to a restaurant since the outbreak started, which is significantly lower than the number of people concerned about visiting the grocery store. Of those concerned, 22 percent are avoiding restaurants altogether, while four percent are opting to use food delivery apps.


With countless businesses and brands distributing emails to patrons about various procedures being implemented in the wake of COVID-19, FreshPrep is also taking the time to comfort its customers with an incredibly detailed rundown of the care it is taking to ensure the health of its customers and team.

The multiple safeguards being put in place stretch from suppliers to delivery drivers, with no room for error at any point. “Staff in food production areas are being required to wear smocks, hairnets, disposable gloves, and sleeve protectors…delivery drivers are required to use sanitizer after each delivery; clean any touchpoints in their vehicles with disinfectant wipes; are limited to accessing only the loading bay in our facility; and to stay home if they are experiencing symptoms of illness.”

Interestingly, 25 percent of Canadians not concerned haven’t changed anything about their daily habits, while 49 percent of those not concerned are still visiting restaurants but are more cautious about where they are going.


“In these uncertain times, results are suggesting that grocery stores are a significant source of risk for many Canadians, compared to food service. Crowds and lineups in grocery stores may have contributed to this fear,” Angus Reid and Dalhousie University stated in a press release.

“Canadians may not fear restaurants as much but are told to stay away by most public health officials. Given that almost three out of four Canadians are concerned about the outbreak, these results are not surprising.”

A total of 1,014 Canadians were surveyed in March 2020. The survey carries a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Article Author

Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch
Jessica Finch is a writer and editor based in Toronto. She holds a BA in English and Psychology and is a graduate of Ryerson University’s Publishing program. She has extensive managerial experience in the food service industry, and is interested in exploring innovations within this sector and other retail environments.

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  1. I am a 78-year old female and live alone. I have no one to shop for me. We are being told to stay home, but how am I to get groceries? In my area there are only two stores who offer on line grocery shopping – Loblaws (pickup only) and Walmart(delivery or pickup). Both are booked more than a week ahead. Walmart does not even offer a date.

    There is a Metro store in Pickering, where I live. When I visit their web site and enter my postal code, the closest Metro store to me with online shopping is BURLINGTON, Ontario! Seriously???

    During this pandemic, couldn’t more be done to make online grocery shopping, especially for delivery, more widely available?

    • Hi Lily. Please msg me on 6479949890. My name is Akash. I’ll help and arrange someone in your area to help you out. Dont worry.


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