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Pandemic spurs preference for local produce (Survey)

More than one third of Ontario shoppers are making more of an effort to buy local
Shutterstock/ B Brown

Consumers are making a notable effort to purchase homegrown fruits and veggies during the pandemic, according to a new survey by The Ontario Produce Marketing Association (OPMA).

The survey of 1,001 Ontario grocery shoppers, conducted by Leger, found that 44% of shoppers changed their produce-shopping behaviour during the pandemic. One of the biggest shifts was the intention to purchase local produce. While 69% of respondents said they usually look for local produce at any time, since the pandemic started 36% of all shoppers report they have made more of an effort to buy local.

“Far and away the primary reason for was to support local business,” says Michelle Broom, president of OPMA. “Of the people who told us they were making more of an effort, 77% said it was to support local business.” That was followed by safety (12%) and better quality (10%) of local produce.

The findings indicate a small shift in frequency of shopping, with the average being five times per month, down from six times. While trips are down, people still prefer to buy produce in store: seven in 10 respondents said they buy produce in-person at conventional grocery stores, 56% shop at discount stores and 40% mentioned big box stores. “While a lot more people are shopping online for groceries, people still say they’re reluctant to shop online for produce,” says Broom.

More than half of respondents (51%) report seeking out fair trade produce when shopping. And when it comes to organics, 14% of produce is purchased in the organic section, and 85% of organic buyers said the amount of organic produce they purchase has not changed.

Plastic packaging in the fruit and veggie aisles remains a hot topic. Almost nine in 10 shoppers believe it should be reduced, while 66% think it should be eliminated altogether. Despite this, most agree that it’s important for food safety and reducing food waste. “Before the pandemic, there was such a consumer push for reduction of plastic for environmental reasons,” says Broom. “That attitude is still quite high.”

For grocery retailers, there’s a prime opportunity to take advantage of locally minded consumers. “If promoting local produce, they can use the messaging around supporting local businesses,” she says. “Or it could be a case of putting local produce in one section, like they do for organic, so people that are thinking local can just go to one section of the store.”

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