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COVID-19 shopping habits to remain post pandemic

Industry leaders took part in Canadian Grocer’s inaugural webinar to discuss the future of grocery
Trong Nguyen/Shutterstock

As we know, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about unprecedented change within the Canadian grocery and manufacturing industries. While we wait to return to some semblance of normalcy, industry leaders believe certain shifts in consumer habits are here to stay. And grocers need to be ready.

The way Canadians shop could be forever changed, as they grow accustomed to online shopping and their expectations around in-store safety and cleanliness protocols increase. What does this mean for centre store? How does it change the way grocers merchandise? And what does it do to the traditional retail footprint?

These were some of the questions raised during Canadian Grocer’s inaugural webinar titled COVID 19: Navigating a crisis. Participating in the webinar was Retail Council of Canada’s Diane J. Brisebois, Food & Consumer Products of Canada’s Michael Graydon and Tom Shurrie of the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers.

Miss our last webinar? “COVID 19: Navigating a crisis” is now on-demand

“In the next year we’re going to see a very different grocery retail environment,” said Brisebois. “Not only because we need to adapt to the reality of living with COVID-19 or forms of COVID-19, living with social distancing but also because it will be defined by how consumers feel, what they can afford to do and buy and how they want to live their lives.”

Though it’s still early days and hard to determine what the exact impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on the Canadian grocery industry, one thing is certain: a significant percentage of shopping has shifted online and grocers are having issues keeping up.

Prior to the pandemic, Brisebois said 47% of Canadians indicated that they shopped in a grocery store more than once a week, a figure that has since dropped to 11%. Brisebois said its grocer members have reported 700% increases in online sales, and it’s a trend the RCC believes will continue.

“There are a lot of issues that we will need to address, specifically as we look at the increase of online shopping and click and collect,” said Brisebois. “We don’t have that right yet, most of it is an infrastructure issue and it’s because we’re selling in three weeks what we used to sell in three months.”

COVID-19 has not only led to a shift in consumer shopping habits, it has also started a conversation around the importance of building a supply chain that is resilient to disruption and less reliant on international supply chains.

“This COVID example has proven to us that we’re highly dependent on others for critical things like the supply chain from a food perspective and that we need to start to look for opportunities to expand the capital investment in manufacturing in this country,” said Graydon.

Manufacturers need to work with governments, increase capital investment and expand plants to become more self sufficient, he said, pointing to the number of Canadian distilleries producing hand sanitizer as an example of how companies have pivoted to support dwindling supplies.

If there’s one positive to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s better relationships among trade associations, said Shurrie. “CFIG has been very candid in working constructively with the supplier communities and the governments and the associations as well as media throughout this pandemic and we’ve had a lot of great interactions, so we thank everybody for that.”

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