"It's terrible."

That's how Edmonton downtown resident Emma Wynters sums up her access to groceries.

At the two nearest grocery stores, line ups are long and produce selves empty, because the stores are so overused.

And since Sobeys on 104th Street and Jasper Avenue closed a year and a half ago, Wynters said local options — an organic grocery store and a Shoppers Drug Mart — do not provide the range of fresh produce she needs.

"You're not able to do your full grocery shop unless you get in a car and go somewhere," Wynters said while pointing out that's on top of paying a premium for living downtown.

But so-called "food deserts" are not just a problem in Edmonton's downtown.

A newly-released study from the University of Alberta highlights the lack of inner-city grocery stores in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg and Ottawa. 

The study found exceptional inner-city grocery store availability in Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

Alberta situation unique

The situation in Alberta's major cities is unique, said co-author Kyle Murray.

"They have relatively few grocery stores, but rapidly growing urban cores," he said.

"Even those who live downtown tend to drive to the suburbs or out of the downtown to make big-box grocery buying trips."

Those who don't own a vehicle, or don't want to drive, tend to pay more, he said.

"It creates a bigger hole in my wallet," said Edmontonian Rachel Si, who moved downtown four years ago.

"It makes me more lazy and it makes me go out to eat more. Because I don't want to go out and drive to get groceries all the time."

Downtown residents also pay a higher price in regards to their health, according to food experts.

There is a direct link between the environment around us and our health, said Stefan Epp-Koop, acting executive director at Food Matters Manitoba.

Grocery service expected to improve

"If you don't have places where people can get healthy foods, they're not going to be able to make that choice," Epp-Koop said. "Not because they don't want to, but just because they can't. It's not there."

But it won't be long before grocery service improves in both Edmonton and Calgary, he said.

The study identifies three new supermarkets opening in Edmonton: a yet to be identified 25,000 square-foot, two-level store in the Ice District, a Loblaws City Market in the Brewery District, and a new and larger Planet Organic in the Oliver neighbourhood, set to open next week across from the old location.

Calgary's downtown shoppers can look forward to two additional options: Loblaws in the East Village and Urban Fare at Mount Royal village.

"The big question is: Will they be successful?," Murray asked, pointing to the shutdown of Sobeys on Jasper  Avenue.

People might need to change their shopping habits to give urban stores the business they need to stay profitable, he said.

"It was there in a dense area; was busy at times, but not busy enough for Sobeys to justify keeping it open."