Metro Morning

Canadians going to new lengths to keep grocery bills down

As food prices rise, a new study shows that more than 50 per cent of Canadians are "strategizing" to keep their grocery bills down.

Study shows that more than half are "strategizing" but few actually set budgets

A new study by Dalhousie University has found that Canadians are turning to 'strategizing' to keep their grocery bills down as food prices rise. (Sam Martin/CBC)

A new study shows that more than 50 per cent of Canadians are "strategizing" to keep their grocery bills down in response to rising food prices. 

Sarah Chamberlain, a research associate at Dalhousie's Faculty of Management, says "strategizing" means looking through flyers for deals, stocking up on sale items, planning meals based on sale items, making detailed lists, and choosing cheaper alternatives to the food usually put in the cart every week. 

"Most people in our survey indicated they are changing the way they shop and food prices is why," she told Metro Morning on Monday. "A lot of the changes they are implementing to try to deal with their grocery bills every week is strategizing."

However, she said the study found few Canadians are actually setting budgets for grocery shopping. "People are still not budgeting as much as we would like to see," she said. "I don't think there are many Canadians in the country who can tell you how much they spend on groceries every year."

Chamberlain said the study, entitled Pre-Shopping Habits and Consumer Vulnerability, which she co-authored, found in general that rising food prices have prompted Canadians to be more careful when they shop because they are having to spend more of their household incomes on food.

More than 1,000 adults were surveyed online between Oct. 8 and Oct. 31 to determine if price increases were prompting them to rethink how they shop for groceries. The study looked at grocery shoppers in terms of age, gender, income, education and region. 

It found that lower income, less educated women were the most likely to worry about food security, while men reported the least concern. High income Canadians were more likely to be price conscious and shift their shopping habits due to fluctuating food prices in the past year than lower and middle income Canadians. 

It found that 95 per cent of Canadians make shopping lists, 54 per cent choose a store based on deals, while 41 per cent find less expensive alternatives to the food they usually buy. Only 16 per cent, however, set a budget for shopping trips.

More educated and older respondents were also more likely to change their shopping habits due to price increases than less educated and younger respondents.

The study found many consumers in Ontario, at 41.6 per cent, and in Quebec, at 47.2 per cent, have changed their eating habits to cope with prices, whereas only 27 per cent of people on the Prairies have done so.

The most price conscious Canadians were found in Quebec, at 71 per cent, and the least in the Prairies, at 63 per cent, while people in B.C. were the most likely to have changed their shopping habits, at 57 per cent.

In Ontario, 63 per cent planned their trips based on deals, while only 43 per cent in Atlantic Canada did so.

Among age groups, people between the ages of 18 to 21 reported feeling the most vulnerable to food prices, followed by those over 46 years old. Households with dependants were also more likely to feel less food secure than a year ago.

"The youngest age group reported the highest vulnerability but it seems like they are doing the least strategizing," Chamberlain said.

Overall, the study found shoppers in Northern communities and Quebec worry the most about food prices, while respondents from Atlantic Canada and the Prairies worry the least.

In the north, Chamberlain said "strategizing" may be difficult to do because there may only be one grocery store in many communities and the cost of food is very high because of the cost of transporting it. 

With files from Metro Morning