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Grocery shoppers evolving into dedicated bargain hunters

Posted on March 5, 2024 by Ryan Dahlman

The grocery market in Canada has changed a lot. Grocery shoppers have evolved into dedicated bargain hunters, as revealed by a comprehensive survey conducted by Dalhousie University and Caddle. This survey delves into Canadian grocery shopping habits, highlighting a pronounced shift towards discount-driven consumerism, accentuated using technology to secure savings.

The findings provide nuanced insights into the changing landscape of grocery shopping, marked by a 32 percent increase in shopping frequency since 2018, a strong inclination towards discounts, and the strategic use of food-saving apps. The average Canadian now visits the grocery store 7.20 times a month, up from 5.43 in 2018, signifying a notable change in shopping behaviour.

In the face of economic uncertainties, 62.2 percent of consumers are willing to switch their primary grocery store for better deals, with 29.8 percent choosing stores based solely on discount offerings. This discernment extends to expiring products, where a 50 percent discount would entice 47.3 percent of shoppers, showcasing a solid preference for substantial savings.

The Loblaw 50 percent discount flip-flop earlier this year on expiring foods raised concerns for many. Discounts on expiring or clearance items captivate consumers, with 59.2 percent actively seeking such deals. The survey reveals that 57.9 percent of purchases are influenced by familiarity with the product, while 57.2 percent are swayed by the magnitude of the discount. Flyers, mobile apps, and in-store signage play pivotal roles in alerting consumers to these discounts, with fresh produce and meat products topping the list of most-purchased discounted items. Consumers expect to be incentivized when buying expiring food at the grocery store, with 50 percent being the preferred benchmark for interest.

The survey also highlights the growing use of food-saving apps, such as FlashFood, Food Hero, and Too Good To Go. Despite a 57.6 percent non-use rate, these apps have garnered overwhelming approval from current users, with 95.1 percent recommending them. They cater to the desire to save money, with 73.2 percent citing it as a primary motivation, and contribute to waste reduction, an important consideration for 39.5 percent of users. Among app users, preferences for discounted items diverge from in-store choices, favouring baked goods, fresh produce, meat, and ready-to-eat items, indicating a distinct market for app-based food rescuing.

Saving food through apps is slowly gaining popularity, but the process still needs refinement. Buying expiring foods online means purchasing based on a picture or a mystery bag filled with potentially unwanted items. Over time, the interface of these apps will need to evolve to become more attractive to consumers who are still unsure.

Interestingly, Canadians view Loblaw, Walmart, Costco, Metro, and Giant Tiger, in that order, as grocers offering substantial discounts. Surprisingly, Sobeys, the second-largest grocer, did not make the top five in the survey.

Given these findings, grocery retailers need to adapt by emphasizing percentage discounts and loyalty rewards, enhancing promotion visibility through varied channels, and forging proactive partnerships with food-saving apps. Such strategies aim to align with consumer preferences for savings and sustainability, potentially boosting customer loyalty and market share in a competitive industry.

The modern grocery landscape is marked by a robust appetite for discounts, shaping consumer behaviours and store preferences. The burgeoning popularity of food-saving apps underscores a shifting consumer mindset towards sustainable and cost-effective grocery shopping practices.

In essence, the survey offers a rigorous look into the preferences and behaviours shaping the future of grocery shopping in Canada. Sustained higher food inflation has programmed us to be discount seekers, which may last a while. As the industry grapples with these trends, the strategic integration of discounts and technology emerges as a key avenue for retailers to meet evolving consumer demands while fostering sustainability.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

© Troy Media

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