Pandemic spurs preference for local produce (Survey)

More than one third of Ontario shoppers are making more of an effort to buy local

Shutterstock/ B BrownShutterstock/ B Brown

Consumers are making a notable effort to purchase homegrown fruits and veggies during the pandemic, according to a new survey by The Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA).

The survey of 1,001 Ontario grocery shoppers, conducted by Leger, found that 44% of shoppers changed their produce-shopping behaviour during the pandemic. One of the biggest shifts was the intention to purchase local produce. While 69% of respondents said they usually look for local produce at any time, since the pandemic started 36% of all shoppers report they have made more of an effort to buy local.

“Far and away the primary reason for [the shift] was to support local business,” says Michelle Broom, president of OPMA. “Of the people who told us they were making more of an effort, 77% said it was to support local business.” That was followed by safety (12%) and better quality (10%) of local produce.

The findings indicate a small shift in frequency of shopping, with the average being five times per month, down from six times. While trips are down, people still prefer to buy produce in store: seven in 10 respondents said they buy produce in-person at conventional grocery stores, 56% shop at discount stores and 40% mentioned big box stores. “While a lot more people are shopping online for groceries, people still say they’re reluctant to shop online for produce,” says Broom.

More than half of respondents (51%) report seeking out fair trade produce when shopping. And when it comes to organics, 14% of produce is purchased in the organic section, and 85% of organic buyers said the amount of organic produce they purchase has not changed.

Plastic packaging in the fruit and veggie aisles remains a hot topic. Almost nine in 10 shoppers believe it should be reduced, while 66% think it should be eliminated altogether. Despite this, most agree that it’s important for food safety and reducing food waste. “Before the pandemic, there was such a consumer push for reduction of plastic for environmental reasons,” says Broom. “That attitude is still quite high.”

For grocery retailers, there’s a prime opportunity to take advantage of locally minded consumers. “If [grocers are] promoting local produce, they can use the messaging around supporting local businesses,” she says. “Or it could be a case of putting local produce in one section, like they do for organic, so people that are thinking local can just go to one section of the store.”