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What shoppers are affected most by high food prices?

New study reveals pre-shopping habits and food vulnerability in food retailing

While most consumers have noticed their weekly grocery bills have increased, few Canadians are worried about being able to feed their family and stay on budget, according to a new study that looks into how vulnerable Canadians are feeling faced with fluctuating food prices.

But, says the Dalhousie University survey of more than 1,000 shoppers, higher prices are changing the way some shop. Canadians' shopping habits vary from region to region, with B.C., Quebec and Ontario showing the biggest changes.

People in the most populous regions of the country are spending more time “pre-shopping,” which means making shopping lists, studying flyers or going online, looking for sales and shopping accordingly. Also, in those regions, customers are more likely to stock up on goods at sale prices.

Most surprising, says Dalhousie’s Sylvain Charlebois, the survey project leader, “while people seem overly concerned about food prices but they don’t budget.”

“If you ask any family how much they spend on groceries, they don’t know," he says.

Curiously, this is especially true in the Atlantic Provinces, where he suspects people are “more committed to their diets” despite the cost.

Defining food insecurity as a feeling that you might not be able to feed your family, Charlebois said people making between $80,000 and $100,000 were the most insecure of all.

He speculates that those making above average incomes might be financially extended with mortgage and car payments weighing on them, and therefore more anxious about how to also pay grocery bills.

In B.C. and Ontario, he says, consumers do more buying in bulk and he speculates higher real-estate prices there are pushing shoppers to find ways to economize on food.

The study also showed that men are less informed about food buying options and therefore tend to manifest more insecurity while women seem to worry less.

One of the main takeaways for retailers, says Charlebois, other than regional differences, is that more time is going into pre-shopping and only 50 per cent of consumers look to paper flyers when preparing to shop.

Charlebois urges retailers to study their consumers, realize shopping habits are changing and pay attention to how they preshop.

The study was in part financed by Flipp a Canadian firm which specializes in designing apps and websites for retailers.

Other noteworthy points:

  • — Quebecers feel most vulnerable.

  • — Ontario consumers are most likely to have made changes to what they eat.

  • — 70% of Canadians have become more price-conscious in the last year.

  • — A small majority, 54%, have changed the way they shop due to prices.

  • — 60% of Canadians say they are now looking for deals.

  • — Almost 60%  stock up on sale items.

  • Consumers in B.C. and Ontario most likely to “take action” to combat price fluctuations, including looking at flyers or their alternatives, changing eating or buying habits.


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