Grocers ahead in the growing single-serve economy

Canada's food retailers have dedicated more space to ready-made meals to cater to this growing market


One of the fastest-growing demographics in Canada and around the world has long been ignored by mainstream businesses and politicians, but that may be about to change.

For the first time in Canada, the number of one-person households was the largest living arrangement, according to the 2016 census. Nearly four million Canadians lived alone in 2016, up from 1.7 million in 1981. They accounted for 28.2% of the 14.1 million households, more than couples with or without children, single-parent families and multiple family households.

The increase is driven by people marrying later, divorcing more, surviving spouses and staying single longer.

Some businesses have tried to meet the changing needs by enhancing grocery options, removing travel impediments or building more housing for one.

Canada’s supermarket chains have been increasing floor space for ready-made food that appeals to busy and wealthier singles, a move that both serves a market and substantially increases margins, says Sylvain Charlebois, professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

“I think it’s only going to increase just because our demographics are supporting grocers who want to offer more single-serving solutions.”

A Statistics Canada report released Wednesday says more men, divorced or separated people live alone today than in the past, while the proportion of widowed men and women has fallen.

While many people often end up living alone because they’ve put off having families as they establish their careers, 72% once had a partner and 55% had at least one child, said the Living Alone in Canada report.

The growth in solo living has coincided with the rise in condominium construction. Twenty-eight percent of people living alone resided in these types of accommodation, either owned or rented, said Statistics Canada, up from 7% in 1981.

Despite the current efforts, more can be done by businesses to take advantage of trends, said Bella DePaulo, a singles expert and the author of Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After.

“Restaurants need to up their game when it comes to welcoming the solo diner.”

People often choose to live alone when they can afford to. Better pay has allowed more women to live their lives “without being tethered to a husband for economic life support,” DePaulo said.