What does the new Canada’s Food Guide mean for your store?

In the short-term probably nothing; but the product mix and store layout could gradually change over time

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Canada’s Food Guide has been updated a number of times since its 1942 introduction (when it bore the somewhat heavy-handed title Canada’s Official Food Rules), but the latest version contains arguably the most profound changes in the document’s history.

The updated Food Guide includes several significant changes, from the way the recommended daily diet is presented (a photo representation of a dinner plate replaces the illustrations that have been a mainstay since 1944) to the decision to group two of its foundational components, meat and dairy, under the single umbrella headlined “Eat protein foods.” In fact, the traditional “four food groups” from previous versions of the guide are no longer part of it—the new guide simply recommends vegetables, fruit, whole grains and protein foods should be consumed more regularly; and among protein foods, people should consume plant-based foods more often.

The guide also recommends that Canadians make water “their beverage of choice” and dissuades them from drinking fruit juice. It suggests Canadians limit their intake of “highly processed foods” as well, and goes beyond recommending what people should eat, and makes suggestions regarding how people eat: cook more often, enjoy your food, and eat with others.

It’s unclear what kind of impact the revamped food guide will have from a retail perspective. With milk no longer venerated, for example, could there be less emphasis on dairy in stores? And could the decision to include meat as just one part of the broader protein category, nestled alongside eggs, chickpeas, beans and other plant-based proteins, spell the end of the traditional butcher’s department as we know it?

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University, says while most Canadians don’t consult the food guide on a daily basis, most of us do remember the four food groups that we learned from previous food guides as kids in school. It’s become institutionalized—and the institutionalized nature of our country’s food guide, he predicts, will ultimately lead to a change in the way Canadians make food choices.

For now, there are no indications from grocers that they intend to significantly overhaul their stores to accommodate the new food guide recommendations. While grocers like Loblaw say the new Food Guide is aligned with their business objectives, others suggest it will be business as usual.

In a statement to Canadian Grocer, Loblaw said it applauds the revamped Food Guide for its “clear suggestion that Canadians more actively understand, appreciate and celebrate the food they eat.” Loblaw said it is increasingly seeing customers diversify their food preferences and eating habits, placing a greater emphasis on variety and healthy options.

The company also noted that it is already working to bring some of the guide’s principles to life through in-store elements like its PC Cooking Schools and registered dietitian services, as well as to Canadian households through its “Eat Together” marketing campaign and its Raise a Food Lover program.

Charlebois predicts the product mix—and merchandising—in grocery stores may change, although not immediately. Grocers are already incorporating more plant-based items into their product assortment, he says, although its placement could vary from grocer to grocer, with some putting them adjacent to products containing animal proteins and others deciding against it. “It’s a mixed bag out there, and I suspect grocers will change store layouts just so consumers can find their proteins and fibres,” says Charlebois.

In an email statement, Sobeys director of external communications, Jacquelin Weatherbee, said the company welcomes the changes that have “modernized” the Food Guide. “We strive to offer a great selection of products in our stores to help our shoppers meet a broad range of dietary needs and preferences,” she said.