Want to save $600 on your family's grocery bill? A Calgary mom says it's totally doable
Shoppers can use app that alerts them to deals on soon-to-expire items
This story was originally published on Nov. 30 and is being resurfaced through the holidays as part of our series on the high cost of food .
Kasper Boss-Moodie says he knows the price of food.
"I grew up in a welfare home, so food security, I didn't really have that growing up. We were a food bank family," the Calgary resident told CBC News in an interview.
"This idea of wasting food has followed me, and that's a key part of how I consume food. I really don't like to waste anything. I am cautious of how much food I am bringing into the house, making sure it's being used."
So a few months ago, when he learned of an app that aims to reduce food waste and save a few bucks in the process, it really whet his appetite.
"It is a really accessible way to find discount food. It prevents food ending up as waste, which is a big part of food security," he said.
"It's also a way to plan some of our meals throughout the week."
The app is called Flashfood and it takes a grocery retailer's soon-to-expire rack and puts it in the hands of strategic shoppers who are looking to cash in. Users say it has saved them hundreds of dollars a month.
"We took the discount food rack, made it look sexy, and put it on your cellphone," said CEO Josh Domingues.
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Flashfood started a couple of years ago around the time COVID began to grab headlines.
"It was horrifying at the beginning — for everybody," Domingues said.
"At the beginning, when we didn't know how fast the disease, the virus, was spreading, we were put on pause in a lot of our stores. Our sales dropped something like 80 per cent in a matter of a few days, but we were able to push through that period with our partners."
Fast forward to 2021. The app is now in every province and working its way south of the border.
"It's north of 25 million pounds of food that has been diverted from landfills, which is the equivalent, in greenhouse gas emission production, of driving 25 million kilometres. So environmentally, it's incredibly humbling," the Toronto-based CEO said.
"Some of our shoppers have saved tens of thousands of dollars. For our top shoppers, I think it's around $25,000 they have saved. The average discount on Flashfood is 50 per cent off, so the savings are incredibly impactful for families."
Boss-Moodie, meanwhile, says the program has not replaced grocery shopping altogether, but he and his partner now make smarter choices.
"We really evaluated how we were spending money on food. We really focused on creating meal plans. That's not something we had done before. That has helped us cut down on food waste a lot because we didn't buy something if we weren't going to use it," Boss-Moodie explained.
"Cooking is a big part of our lives. It's really important to us. By eating out less, we can spend more on the food we are getting."
Another app user has had a different experience and the savings are rolling.
"Over the course of time, I buy the majority of my groceries on Flashfood. It is the craziest money-saver out there. It is amazing," Heather Friesen said.
Friesen says her family of four used to spend up to $1,000 a month on groceries, primarily gluten-free because her nine-year-old son has food allergies.
"I spend $400 on groceries on the average month now, and we eat a lot better than we used to with a lot more meat and a lot more fruits and vegetables."
Friesen says it's not an overstatement to say the app has changed her life.
"We were on a mission to become debt free and we are completely debt free now. Now it's catching up on projects around the house. We just finished rebuilding the deck and we need new windows. That's next."
The director of a Mount Royal University research group says solutions are desperately needed at a time when food insecurity is front of mind.
"In 2020, about 30 per cent of Canadians frequently experienced anxiety and hardship, living paycheque to paycheque, and had difficulty meeting basic necessities, like housing, foods and health care," James Stauch of the Institute for Community Prosperity told CBC News.
"That went from 30 per cent to 40 per cent in one year alone."
Other stats are equally troubling.
4.4M Canadians are food insecure
Roughly 4.4 million Canadians are food insecure, and a quarter of those are children.
"Only 25 per cent of food-insecure households access food banks. People are proud. They don't want to be part of a program, or line up for food, or go through a means test or questionnaire. It's a huge issue and it's hard to emphasize unless you experience it yourself, and it's often quite invisible," Stauch said.
And while Flashfood is a for-profit venture, CEO Domingues says the effects can be far-reaching.
"I think people don't realize how much the price of food impacts families, and what kids are able to eat, and what that means for their attention span at school. There are so many trickle-down effects."
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App user Friesen says you have to play around to make the program work for you.
"Check often. You might think you know your store's system but then they load something when you are not expecting it. Basically, when I pick my phone up to read a text, I check Flashfood at the same time. I don't travel all around the city because the cost of gas can quickly eat up what you are saving," Friesen said.
And Boss-Moodie notes the early bird gets the brand-name worm.
"Find a few stores you like and just keep checking. The East Village Superstore has a lot of meat and fish. The Signal Hill Superstore is more for general shopping. They have more produce boxes, more discount meats, and more bread products," Boss-Moodie said.
"If you wait too long during the day, you are left with no-name bologna."
Universal basic income a solution?
Meanwhile, research director Stauch says COVID and food security have revealed something many poverty activists already know.
"When seniors hit retirement age and can collect old age security, their food insecurity actually drops quite dramatically," he said.
"They are the least problematic group when it comes to food security because they have a form of universal income."
CBC Calgary asked community members what they thought of Flashfood. More than two dozen members of our cost of food texting group responded. More than two-thirds told us they love it and use it often, especially to find discounted meat to use immediately or freeze. They also found the pre-packed produce boxes to be convenient.
Those who didn't like it said the produce went bad too quickly, that buying bulk items can still be cheaper, and that it still isn't a solution for people who can't drive or don't have a credit card.
Those who use it often say they check it in the mornings to get the best diversity of deals, or in the evenings to find the steepest discounts.
CBC Calgary is looking at the high cost of food this fall because of the steep increases at the grocery store. Follow the project and help focus it on what matters by adding your cellphone number here (you can unsubscribe at any time):
You can also sign up and read an FAQ on the texting app here.
With files from Elise Stolte