Canadians set to change their spending habits as food prices rise: Survey

Study author names the one big opportunity for grocers, as shoppers try to save money

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With food prices going up, Canadians are planning to put their food spending on a diet in the New Year.

A new survey by Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Angus Reid, found that 53% of Canadians intend to change their habits around purchasing food to save money. To cut back on their food bills, 60% of Canadians plan to eat at restaurants less often, 49% intend to use flyers and coupons more often, and 48% plan to look for discounts in grocery stores.

With the majority of Canadians planning to cut back on restaurant visits, there’s a big opportunity for grocery retailers, said Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, in an interview with Canadian Grocer. “[The finding] is spelling out that the grocerant model actually has a future. So, try to accommodate customers in your store by offering products to eat as if they were at a restaurant. And they can do some grocery shopping along the way.”

To save money, 41% of Canadians intend to buy in bulk more often. While 31% intend to eat more plant-based products and less meat, 24% are planning to visit the freezer aisle more often to save money. In Quebec, the option of using coupons and flyers more often was the most popular choice to offset costs (57%). In Saskatchewan, buying in bulk more often was the top-ranked choice (51%).

One finding that surprised the researchers was that 87% of Canadians believe food prices are increasing faster than their household income. “That was outrageously high. We weren’t expecting 87%—maybe around 60%,” says Charlebois. “The majority of Canadians love to complain about food prices, but when you are actually thinking you are falling behind as a result of increasing food prices and the revenue you’re earning, that’s concerning.”

The latest Canada’s Food Price Report—a collaborative effort by Dalhousie University and University of Guelph—forecasts that food prices will increase 2% to 4% in 2020.

The end-of-year consumer survey asked which food categories Canadians are most concerned about when it comes to food inflation. Vegetables are the top-ranked concern (69%), with fruits in second place (60%) and meat products in third (54%). This is followed by dairy (30%), fish and seafood (27%) and restaurants (25%).

“I’m not surprised that [the top three] categories are top of mind for consumers because prices are quite volatile for those three categories,” says Charlebois. And in light of vegetable prices rising more than 15% in 2019, he adds, it’s no surprise they’re at the top of the list.

Asked what food-related resolution they intend to make for 2020, reducing food waste was the most popular choice in all regions, except Saskatchewan, where the most popular food resolution is changes to diet. More than half (53%) of Canadians intend to reduce waste as much as possible in 2020.

Eating more vegetables and fruits was the second most popular choice at 46%. Forty-four per cent intend to cook more in 2020 than in 2019. Changing one’s diet (42%), eating more leftovers (30%), bringing lunches to work more often (25%), managing snacking more wisely (23%), and discovering new cuisines (18%) were also top choices.

More than 1,500 Canadians were surveyed in early December 2019. The margin of error is 2.9%, 19 times out of 20.