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The Changing Canadian Consumer

by Mike Ljubicic

Canada’s multicultural landscape has contributed to a rich tapestry of ethnic diversity, shaping the nation’s social fabric and consumer market. Understanding and catering to the needs and preferences of ethnic consumers has become essential for businesses and marketers alike. From cultural traditions to unique consumption patterns, exploring the intricacies of ethnic consumer behaviour opens doors to significant opportunities for brands seeking to engage and connect with this dynamic and influential demographic.

Today, Canada is home to nearly 40 million individuals from diverse backgrounds. According to Statistics Canada, as of 2016, more than 6 million people (18 per cent of Canadians) reported having Asian origins. As the Canadian government ramps up immigration to about 500,000 people annually, it is now expected the Asian population will reach 8.4 million by 2026 and 11.5 million by 2036, making it the fastest-growing consumer segment in Canada. Within NIQ’s Homescan, Asian consumers include those identifying as Chinese, South Asian (Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, East India, etc.), Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and South-East Asian descent.

The evolving landscape of Canada warrants our attention, particularly regarding the anticipated increase in Asian household FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) expenditure, projected to reach $15.7 billion by 2036. This signifies considerable growth of $6.6 billion compared to the total spending of $9.1 billion in 2021. Based on the insights derived from the NIQ panel, it is evident this expanding consumer segment exhibits a higher inclination to reside in urban areas. Recently, many have chosen to settle in major metropolitan areas such as Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Hamilton. However, a noticeable surge has occurred in smaller urban areas like Regina, Saskatoon, Victoria, London, Windsor, and Halifax. This trend aligns with the government’s strategic plans for facilitating the settlement of new immigrants in Canada.

What makes Asian consumers different

  • Tend to be younger families with half under 45 years of age
  • Have larger households, with 40 per cent more likely to be three- to four-member households and two times more likely to be more than five-member households
  • Are two times less likely to own a pet
  • Are more affluent: 50%+ like to have $100,000+ at their disposal

Given the larger family size and growth, retailers and manufacturers need to understand their shopping patterns more than ever. Asian shoppers continue to compartmentalize their purchases between ethnic stores and traditional banners, with two or more stores in a planned trip. For example, Chinese shoppers favour ethnic stores (e.g., Galleria, Oceans, Sunny, and T&T) but are more likely to visit Costco, Superstore, No Frills, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Longo’s. While South Asians favour ethnic stores like Fusion and Oceans, they are more likely to visit No Frills, FreshCo, Food Basics, Superstores, Walmart, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Longo’s.

Asians are also less about replenishment and more about the experience, with key trip motivators as they over-index on shopping for Fun/Explore, Treat/Gift, and Meal/Drink compared to the total population. Again, however, similarities arise with special offers and loyalty points aligning with the overall population. 

To effectively engage with this expanding consumer segment, manufacturers must prioritize a comprehensive analysis of their product categories at the individual item level. It has been observed that while their overall market share in certain categories may be lower, specific brand items have demonstrated exceptional performance. Therefore, it is crucial to identify the brands and categories originating from their home countries that these consumers actively seek.

Additionally, explore whether similar offerings exist under different brand names or if private-label options are available. It is necessary to identify the emerging small-scale players experiencing success. These inquiries are essential not only for achieving success with Asian shoppers, but also for understanding the influence they currently have and will continue to exert in the broader population.

It is worth recalling that just a few decades ago, Italian cuisine was considered ethnic, whereas today, it has become a mainstream choice for many households. Similarly, South Asian cuisine in the UK has transitioned into the mainstream for numerous British households. With the growing population, we will likely see Asian foods and flavours become mainstream over the next few decades in Canada.

Mike Ljubicic is managing director for Canada, NIQ |

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