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Canadians turn to store brands, coupons to cope with rising food costs (Study)

More than two in five shoppers have changed their behaviour to save money at the grocery store
nflation, growth of food sales, growth of market basket or consumer price index concept. Shopping basket with foods on arrow. 3d illustration

As prices go up at the grocery store, shoppers are asking: is there a coupon for that?

A new survey by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, in partnership with Caddle, looked at how consumers are coping with higher food prices. According to the researchers, Canada’s food inflation rate is close to 5%. The report states that staples such as meat, dairy and groceries have increased because of “macroeconomic shocks” caused by unfavourable weather patterns and pandemic-related logistical challenges.

Shoppers have noticed: 86% of those surveyed believe food prices are higher than they were six months ago. As a result, more than two in five Canadians have changed their behaviour to save money at the grocery store compared to 2020.

How are they coping? Nearly half of Canadians (49%) say they have reduced their purchases of meat products in the last six months due to higher prices. Alberta (57%) has the highest rate of consumers who have cut back on meat buying, while Quebec and Ontario have the lowest rate, at 46%.

Consumers are also turning to private-label brands, weekly flyers and coupons to save money on their grocery bills. A total of 37.5% of Canadians are buying more private-label products compared to last year; 41.6% are reading weekly flyers (paper-based, or digital) more often than in 2020; and 39.5% are using coupons or e-coupons more often than in 2020.

“If grocers are actually focusing on private labelling, this survey will encourage them to do even more,” says Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab. “People are certainly looking at saving some money in many different ways, and one of them is to change brands.”

The survey found that discounted products in stores are also attracting more attention than in 2020. A total of 39.6% of Canadians are purchasing discounted products with expiry or best-before dates within a few days of purchase more often. Nearly 27% of Canadians say they’re buying products with the “enjoy tonight” more often than in 2020.

“Grocers are trying to turn consumers into active food rescuers,” says Charlebois. “I think food rescuing is going to be an emerging theme over the next few years. Traditionally, people had a bit of an elitist approach to not-so-fresh products, but when prices go up, why not?”

Finally, three out of four Canadians (73.5%) have noticed “shrinkflation,” a strategy used by food manufacturers to shrink product sizes, but not reduce the price.

Even though consumers are aware of this seemingly sneaky move, Charlebois doesn’t think it will backfire. “I think consumers are annoyed by shrinkflation, but they’re more annoyed by higher prices,” he says.

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