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Budget-conscious Canadians are still adding cheese to their shopping carts

Caddle’s Ransom Hawley on why the dairy product remains a clear staple for most Canadians

Sky-high inflation and hefty food prices have many Canadians tightening their belts on their grocery budgets. But while sticker shock is causing some consumers to think twice about adding certain luxuries to their carts, when it comes to cheese, shoppers are staying steady with their purchase behaviour.

According to Caddle’s Daily Survey Panel (March 2023) of 9,928 Canadians across provinces and generations, 83.7% of consumers say they plan to continue buying the same amount or more cheese and just 16.3% say they plan to buy less.

READ: Are Canadians buying less food?

Indeed, no matter if it’s cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, havarti or parmesan, the dairy product remains a clear staple for most Canadians. While 23.9% of respondents say they consume cheese daily, 45.1% say it’s something they consume a few times a week. Overwhelmingly, it’s a planned purchase rather than an impulse item. By and large, it’s consumed by the whole family, any day of the week, and it shows up most frequently at the dinner table, though it’s also a common choice for lunch, snacking and breakfast.

To keep their fridges stocked, about one-third (34.4%) of Canadians say they purchase cheese a few times a month, with 31% buying it monthly and 16.5% weekly or more often. Geographically speaking, Ontario has the highest percentage of weekly cheese shoppers, followed by Quebec. A much smaller percentage of prairie populations and people living in Atlantic Canada buy the product that often. 

Although it’s not seen as a luxury, some consumers have changed where they shop for cheese. In fact, cash-strapped millennials are the most likely to have switched stores for their cheese purchases. More people of that generation are now buying from discount grocery stores versus traditional grocers. Costco is the cheese purveyor of choice for 32.8% of shoppers and 31.2% make their purchases at Walmart.

It’s clear that Canadian consumers are brand loyal when it comes to cheese. If their pick is not available, 41.9% of respondents say they’ll wait until their next shopping trip and hope it’s back in stock, compared to just over 37% who say they’ll try another product. Compare that to the budget-conscious millennial shopper and the numbers tell a different story. More than 46% of that generation say if their preferred brand of cheese is not available they’ll look for it at another store. But not every generation is so loyal – gen X is most likely to switch to a different brand if their go-to isn’t in stock.

Although online shopping saw a surge in popularity during the pandemic, only 1.8% of those surveyed buy their cheese online. In fact, most shoppers – a whopping 85% – say they don’t shop for cheese online. Of those who do, convenience is key. Just over 38% buy online to collect in the store and 34.6% purchase for curbside pickup.

READ: Higher tech in the grocery store

Whether they’re buying in-store or online, when selecting a product, most shoppers do not take reviews and ratings under consideration. When they do read other people’s opinions, however, they’re more likely to be swayed by better quality reviews and higher star ratings.

There’s a generational caveat though: those who say reviews and ratings are a very important part of their decision-making process when buying cheese are all millennials. They’re more likely to consult with ratings, whether online or in-store. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, it’s mostly younger demographics who are taking to their screens to buy cheese. Millennials are most likely to buy cheese online, followed by gen X and gen Z.

Those differences continue when it comes to which generations are choosing to buy less cheese – for financial or other reasons. Millennials were most likely to say they were planning on buying less of the product, followed by gen-Xers.

While they’re in the minority, just over 11% of respondents say they rarely buy cheese and 7.5% say they never buy it. There’s a generational trend to those who abstain from the product altogether – the social justice savvy gen Z is leading the charge for the plant-based market, and it’s no coincidence they were most likely to say they never buy cheese, with millennials trailing close behind.

In the current market, shoppers are taking steps to stretch their dollars. But, cheese still plays a big role in Canadians’ diets and, as such, is considered a priority for purchase.

This article first appeared in Canadian Grocer’s May 2023 issue.

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