Food inflation has impacted the lives of most Canadians in recent months. Canada’s food inflation rate has been around 10 per cent since May of this year. Canadians have been trying to cope with higher food and menu prices in many ways. The Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Caddle, investigated what Canadian consumers are doing to deal with higher food prices in the last year.
In total, 5,000 Canadians were consulted between September 8 and September 10, 2022, for this cross-national survey. The investigation first looked at decisions which could lead to lifestyle changes in the last year. While a total of 18,1 per cent of Canadians are focusing more on their health and nutrition, 12.4 per cent claimed that they have moved just in the last year. A total of 12.0 per cent of Canadians have changed jobs and 9.3 per cent started to exercise. A total of 7.1 per cent of Canadians became new pet owners as well.
One way to deal with higher food prices would be to produce food domestically. The survey looked at whether Canadians were growing or making their own food because of higher food prices. A total of 15.5 per cent of Canadians have started growing their own food, just in the last year. Ontario is where the highest percentage of people started to grow their own food, at 17.4 per cent, followed by British Columbia at 16.2 per cent. The Atlantic (15.2 per cent), Quebec (13.7 per cent), and the Prairies (13.1 per cent) were next. While a total of 6.2 per cent of Canadians use hydroponics at home to grow food, 4.5 per cent claim they have livestock at home now and didn’t 12 months ago.
The survey also looked at newly adopted shopping habits. While 8.0 per cent of Canadians changed their primary grocery store where they buy most of their food, 12.9 per cent of Canadians have started to visit more than one store in the last 12 months. Canadians are also more active online.
While 17.1 per cent of Canadians have ordered food online for curbside pick-up, 12.2 per cent of Canadians have ordered food online for delivery in the last 12 months. While we know that buying online is typically more expensive due to fees, we did not ask people why they were ordering online and for what purpose. Another option available online is meal kits. In the last 12 months, only 7.4 per cent of Canadians have ordered meal kits, which is far below our last survey on the topic. In May 2022, 8.4 per cent of Canadians had subscribed to a meal kit service provider, which was down from 12.8 per cent in November 2020. This is likely due to meal kits being perceived as more expensive options for consumers.
The last portion of the survey looked at cost-saving mechanisms consumers have chosen to adopt to deal with higher food prices. The most popular grocery shopping habit change we measured was that many Canadians have used loyalty program points. A total of 33.7 per cent are using loyalty program points to pay for groceries in the last 12 months. The second option is weekly flyers (32.1 per cent), followed by using coupons, at 23.9 per cent.
While 19.1 per cent of Canadians have visited discount stores in the last 12 months, 11.5 per cent of Canadians have visited dollar stores more often to purchase food. A total of 8.0 per cent are visiting farmers' markets more often, and 7.1 per cent of consumers visited roadside stands to buy directly from farmers in the last year.
“It appears Canadians are proactively seeking different ways to save at the grocery store,” said Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, Director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “Options were always there, but inflation just made many options, like loyalty programs and coupons, more attractive,” Charlebois said, referring to the Lab’s survey results.
The study also looked at other specific strategies, such as waste reduction and private (store) labels. The results were interesting. A total of 40.6 per cent of Canadians are trying to waste less food now, much more than 12 months ago.
Going for privately labelled food products is also getting more popular. A total of 21.0 per cent of Canadians are opting for store labels, which are less expensive most of the time. The Atlantic region is where the highest percentage of consumers are now opting for privately labelled products, at 27.8 per cent, followed by Quebec at 22.5 per cent. Also, 19.7 per cent of Canadians are buying more food that is about to expire. The Atlantic has the highest percentage of consumers buying food that is about to expire at 29.1 per cent, followed by the Prairies at 19.5 per cent. In total, we estimate that about three Canadians in four have made changes to how they buy food in the last 12 months to deal with food inflation.
“Seeing food waste reduction as the number one thing consumers are doing to cut costs is encouraging,” said Janet Music, co-author of the report. “Consumers appear to see food waste reduction as a form of incentive and not just a way to adopt a more sustainable way of life.”
Questions did also measure a darker side of compromises being made by consumers these days. Almost 24 per cent of Canadians are now cutting back on the amount of food they purchase due to higher food inflation. Female consumers who opt to cut back on the amount of food outnumber men who opt to do the same, that is, 29.6 per cent versus 18.0 per cent. Dietary changes have been made by 8.2 per cent just to save money. While a total of 7.1 per cent are skipping meals now, 6.6 per cent of Canadians are paying for their groceries with a credit card without knowing when they will be able to pay it back. Other measures are also followed by Canadians.