Navigating the Grocery Aisles: How Canadians are Adapting to Soaring Food Prices and Changing Shopping Habits [Op-Ed]


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It’s undoubtedly been a challenging time for consumers at the grocery store, as dynamic shifts in economic landscapes and global challenges redefine our daily lives. In this era, the resilience and adaptability of individuals and communities have become paramount. Among the fundamental aspects of daily life, the cost of groceries has experienced significant fluctuations in recent times, raising concerns not only in Canada but also reverberating worldwide. These fluctuations have had multifaceted impacts on households and individuals. As Thanksgiving approaches, a recent survey conducted by our Lab at Dalhousie University, in collaboration with Caddle, sheds light on how Canadians are navigating the complexities of higher food prices and the profound impact on their nutrition and well-being.

Shifting Habits in the Face of Soaring Prices

The survey results are indicative of the fact that 64.1% of Canadians have substantially altered their grocery shopping habits in response to the economic realities of our time. An astonishing 86.4% of Canadians now consider themselves more price-conscious compared to a year ago. Evidently, Canadians are actively seeking ways to save on their grocery bills, with 55.1% employing cost-saving mechanisms more frequently than they were 12 months prior. These mechanisms include utilizing coupons, apps, loyalty programs, and referencing flyers, with 79.2% of Canadians having availed themselves of loyalty programs in the past year and 74.8% actively using coupons. Additionally, 52.8% have explored food-rescuing apps, and 41.4% actively seek “enjoy tonight” deals. Furthermore, 49.7% of Canadians have contemplated growing their own food to counteract the impact of food inflation on their budgets.

Diverse Shopping Destinations

Dollarama on Front Street in Toronto (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

The survey reveals that Canadians are diversifying their shopping destinations in pursuit of more affordable groceries. A noteworthy 59.3% of Canadians are now more inclined to visit discount stores, reflecting a significant increase from the past 12 months. Similarly, 47.0% have increased their visits to dollar stores compared to a year ago, reflecting their efforts to save on grocery expenses. Furthermore, 18.5% of Canadians are frequenting farmers’ markets more often. In tandem with these trends, a substantial 17.0% of Canadians have embraced online transactions for food purchases for over a year.

Rise of Store Brands

Whole Foods Market in Vancouver, BC (Image: Field Agent Canada)

Store brands, also known as private labels, are gaining prominence in response to the market’s heightened frugality. A significant 63.8% of Canadians are now more inclined to opt for generic brands over national brands as a cost-saving measure, particularly when compared to the previous year.

Altered Grocery Shopping Patterns

Nature’s Emporium at Shops at One York (Image: Dustin Fuhs)

Canadians have modified how they visit grocery stores and manage their inventories in response to rising food prices. Approximately 41.2% of Canadians now visit grocery stores less frequently and are adopting more strategic stocking practices. Conversely, 26.5% are increasing their visits to grocery stores, capitalizing on deals and purchasing only what is needed for two or three days. A substantial 79.1% of Canadians assert that they have significantly reduced food waste in the past year, demonstrating a willingness to consume leftovers or repurpose ingredients.

Nutritional Compromises: A Growing Concern

Rising food prices have compelled Canadians to make challenging dietary choices. Nearly half of Canadians (49.2%) have reduced the quantity of meat or protein sources they purchase due to increased food costs, a greater number than the previous year. While 45.5% of Canadians prioritize cost over nutritional value when grocery shopping, a larger proportion than last year, 63.3% of Canadians are apprehensive that compromising on nutrition due to high food prices may have adverse long-term effects on their health.

Regional, Generational, and Income Disparities

The survey’s breakdowns by province, generation, and income level illuminate how Canadians are grappling with the impact of elevated food prices. While regional disparities show variations in grocery shopping priorities and concerns across provinces, generational differences highlight the heightened concern among Millennials about the potential health implications of prioritizing cost over nutrition. Income levels also play a significant role, with higher-income individuals being less likely to prioritize cost over nutritional value.

The findings of this survey offer a compelling glimpse into the evolving challenges that Canadians face when it comes to their grocery shopping habits and their concerns about nutrition amidst rising food prices. It is evident that these challenges are not just economic but also deeply tied to the daily lives and well-being of Canadians. As we gather around the Thanksgiving table this year, it is crucial for policymakers, industry stakeholders, and individuals alike to reflect on the profound impact of food inflation on our choices, our health, and our collective resilience in these uncertain times.

Things are improving, food inflation is slowing and Canada fared better than most countries this past year, which is why we should all be thankful.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.


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