Canadian consumers say they’re willing to open their wallets for local produce, but they’re not actively seeking local fruits and vegetables in the grocery store, a new report suggests.
Dalhousie University, in partnership with data insights firm Caddle, surveyed more than 10,000 Canadians in early October. The aim was to take the pulse of Canadians on local foods, following the pandemic’s impact on the supply chain and governments looking more at local supply chains.
The survey found that when deciding what fruits and vegetables to buy, 79% of Canadians say they’re willing to pay a premium for locally grown produce when grocery shopping. However, only one in four (25%) consider where food is grown to be important. Almost half of Canadians (47.8%) cite price—as in the lower price—as the most important factor when choosing what produce to buy. The report authors call this the local food paradox: most Canadians say they’ll pay more, but few are actively looking to buy local produce.
“The local food paradox points to the willingness of Canadians to support local, but the reality is that people have lives and bills to pay, and once you walk into a grocery store, the price itself becomes the critical factor when it comes to making decisions,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University.
The survey also found that consumers’ definition of local varies across the country. In the Atlantic and Prairie provinces, most respondents said if food is grown within the province it’s considered local, while consumers in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec are more likely to consider only food grown within their region to be local.
The survey also asked about Canadians’ perceptions of greenhouse-grown produce. Most respondents perceive crops grown in greenhouses to be the same quality as those grown conventionally, with 63.4% saying they are the same quality, 27.4% saying they are better, and only 9.2% saying they are worse.
Charlebois believes the results point to the need to bring down the cost of local produce, which would require investment in controlled-environment agriculture, all year round. By building economies of scale, local produce could be sold at a more competitive price compared to imports.
“You have two choices: either you educate the public in terms of when you should be buying strawberries—i.e. June and July—and be content with that. Or you try to provide convenience and choice to consumers all-year round,” says Charlebois. “I prefer the latter because that will mean more investment [in greenhouses] and more economic growth, and people will eventually want to buy local all year round.”