What can grocers expect after COVID-19?

What can grocers expect after COVID-19?

Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, grocery shopping has changed from being a routine errand to a logistical minefield. With social distancing and an emphasis on safe sanitary practices, grocery stores have had to adapt to alterations in the shopping landscape. Before the pandemic, food from bars, cafes, coffee shops and the rest accounted for nearly half of the nation’s consumption.  The grocery industry predictions for 2020 were far different last year then they are today. Now consumers, many of whom are now cooking at home and facing financial uncertainty, will be slow to flock back to the bars and restaurants. Therefore, grocery stores need to adapt to this major shift in the way food is consumed.

The long-term effects of prolonged lockdowns and fear of public spaces have got many asking, what will shopping for food look like in the post-pandemic era?

Fewer trips to the store
To stay safe, consumers have been advised to make less but larger shopping trips and it’s highly likely that consumers will continue this trend for months and maybe years to come. The ongoing fear of contagion will mean spending as little time in enclosed spaces. Until it is 100% guaranteed that guests will not contract COVID-19 when going out, grocery stores will have to dedicate resources towards keeping their physical locations exceptionally clean.

Curbside pickup & online ordering
The global pandemic has led to consumers looking for alternate shopping methods. In order to reduce coming into contact with other people, there has been a rise in curbside pickup and online ordering. This new focus on health and safety combined with a hectic return to schedules will mean the continued high volume of online grocery shopping and curbside pickup. Many older consumers have been forced to learn how to shop online for their groceries and are now seeing huge benefits like convenience.

In-store Interactions
In the interest of health & safety, there could be a shift towards lessening the usage of self-service stations, self-serve bars, and free food sampling. At first glance, one might think self-service machines help evade the spread of germs as it involves little to none human contact but unfortunately it is not that simple. Most self-serving machines are incompatible or are hard to use with gloves which means screens and keypads are a high point of constant human contact. Grocery stores might have to prioritize decreasing touchpoints and limiting areas where cross-contamination seems likely.

With a shift away from traditional shopping habits, the grocery shopping environment is going to be very different in the next couple of years, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. These changes mean grocery stores have to be ready to evolve and explore how they can meet the needs of their consumers.


Time to Adapt

COVID-19: Time to Adapt

As a result of the recent pandemic, Canada has witnessed a ban on mass gatherings, the cancellation of sporting events and the closure of schools, restaurants, bars and other facilities. These measures have significantly impacted the economy and in-turn unsettled the lives of many Canadians.

After an initial rush to stores to prepare for the pandemic, consumers nationwide have now settled into a “home-confined buying” stage. Recent events combined with shifting consumer behaviours have prompted customers to reconsider online grocery shopping. Additionally, household grocery spending has abruptly risen. Therefore, supermarkets might find that they have to adapt to meet the changing needs of consumers.

Staying Stocked
Housebound Canadians are doing a lot more home cooking which means grocery shelves have to remain stocked. Consumers are purchasing high quantities of items like frozen meals, lunchmeat, cheese, chocolate and alcohol. For supermarkets replenishing the stocks of vital products has become the number one priority.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Canadians across the country stocking up on supplies in anticipation of weeks of social isolation. However, to combat shortages, stores might want to consider implementing a purchasing limit on certain items. Applying purchasing limits particularly on some key items not only allows more customers to get what they need but can also help maintain inventory levels. Rationing is a store-by-store decision but can temporarily help get more product on the shelves in the wake of all the panic buying.

Online Shopping
With everyone’s focus on health and safety, consumers are looking for alternate shopping methods. Methods such as delivery, contact-free and curbside pickup are becoming increasingly favourable and at a rapid rate. As Canadians across the country continue to practise social distancing and self-isolation, there is a greater reliance on grocery delivery services. To grapple with these recent demands,  grocers, restaurants and other caterers have been building mini-stores inside their stores. This second mini store is closed to customers and serves only delivery and pickup purposes.

Lasting Effect
This sudden surge in online grocery shopping presents an opportunity for grocery stores to demonstrate their value. A lot of consumers are turning to online grocery shopping for the first time and therefore, it is imperative to give a good first impression to ensure repeat business. The outbreak of coronavirus has already pushed Canadians to buy their groceries online and is a development that could have a lasting effect on the supermarket industry.



How to Keep Shoppers in Stores

In today’s digital age, technology is permeating the grocery shopping experience and the proliferation of online meal kits is having a heavy impact on grocery stores. But the war isn’t over yet. Traditional grocery stores and food retailers cannot give up their turf as new players enter an already competitive market. In order to get more foot traffic through their door’s grocery stores must continue to retool their in-store experience.

Focus on In-Store Experiences
Grocery shopping is all about the experience. Consumers are craving a unique experience and don’t want their food shop to feel like a chore. Give customers the experience of eating scrumptious snacks whilst picking up groceries. The idea of giving away products for free can feel a little daunting but samples can help generate a lot of sales over time. Free samples encourage and inspire loyalty with existing customers and also help foster new relationships. Physical stores have the advantage and opportunity to create a delicious environment full of enticements.

It’s All About the Layout
Convenience rules for the modern shopper. Consumers nationwide are eager for a streamlined experience and grocery stores can give it to them. Adding sections at the front of the store for grab-and-go items can help get back lost business as consumers revel at the sight of convenience. Store geography significantly influences spending habits and having an overwhelming layout can deter consumers. Cater to a broader range of customer preferences and make it easier for them to find what they want.

Be an Expert
Provide an in-store service that online merchants can’t match. There’s nothing more compelling than speaking to grocery employees who know their stuff. Consumers are becoming extremely conscious of what they put in their bodies and want to feel reassured that their local grocers are experts in food. Yes, online reviews and live-chats can provide foodies with information but nothing tops interacting with knowledgeable grocery store associates who genuinely want to help. Grocery stores that showcase their superior expertise stand a better chance of seeing both repeat and new customers because their shoppers need them.

The Main Takeaway
The food world is undergoing a makeover and grocery trends are moving quicker than burger patties and hot dogs on a long weekend, but if there’s one constant, it’s that consumers still prefer to visit physical stores.



The Demand for Diverse Grocery Products in Canada

ethnic spices

The demand for diverse grocery offerings is greater than ever. Currently, most traditional grocery stores offer an international or ethnic aisle, and communities, large and small, from Vancouver to Milton, Ontario are welcoming international grocery stores containing a vast array of product lines, produce and dry goods that are often unavailable through traditional vendors. Once the enclave of newcomers, international grocery stores and the diverse line of products they carry are now appealing to a larger demographic of consumers.

Canadians are ready to move beyond the sushi, samosas and shawarma and experience new flavours, textures and products. The shift away from generic categories of “Italian” food or “Chinese” food has resulted in consumers who are interested in regional or cultural categorization and specialities. Consumers are ready to look beyond the mainstream.

Consumer curiosity and demand for expanded global food offerings span demographics and includes both Millenial and Baby Boomer generations. A recent study found that “74% of Canadians like to experience other cultures through food and 72% believe flavour and spice-inspired meals help break the monotony of mealtime.”

Traditional grocery stores like Loblaws recognizing this trend have announced that they will move away from the aisle-model where international products and flavours are segregated from similar products. Instead, they will be mixing these products into appropriate grocery zones. Consumers will find Harissa and Ras el Hanout logically amongst spices like Rosemary, Thyme and Sage.

As retail insiders predict that international grocery stores will continue to expand across the country, CJR Wholesale is proud to feature a diverse product line that will help satiate the Canadian appetite for novel, adventurous and different flavour profiles. Studies have shown that Canadians expect to have international offerings available at every grocery store — CJR can help with that.


New Non-Alcoholic Beers on Tap for the Sober Curious

With a New Year and the overindulgences of the holiday season in the rearview, many look to January as a time of resolution; a time to take control of their health and well-being. Resolutions of promises to eat better, sleep more, exercise and in recent year, to cut out alcohol. Hashtags like #soberlife and #dryjanuary are trending. More and more people are “sober curious,” and not just at this time of year.

Millennials are adopting a wellness-oriented mindset which includes selectively consuming products. The romance of self-destructive behaviours, boozy happy hours and forgotten moments are to some, being replaced with healthy alternatives. There are even sober “bars” where people can find community, support and entertainment without the pressure to drink. More consumers are rejecting alcohol-centric culture and drinking as a social currency and embracing life with reduced consumption of alcohol for several reasons and health consciousness is only one.

NA or no-alcohol products are being marketed by manufacturers as a way for consumers to engage in the social and cultural aspects of drinking-culture without the repercussions that often come with it. Consumers can socialize and enjoy without worrying about risks which allow them to be their ‘best selves’ 100% of the time.

A report from GlobalData determined that the fastest-growing segment of the beer market is amongst non-alcoholic offerings. So while these products may only make up a small fraction at 5% of the market by volume worldwide, the category has grown by 3.9% versus traditional beers .2% over the last five years. A report from Bon Appetit, found that the market for these beverages is expected to grow by over 30% in the next few years.

Marketers are working hard to rebrand and destigmatize the image of NA beverages — ending the perception that these drinks are intended only for those in recovery or that imbibers are “missing out” by opting for this route. 20% of low or no-alcohol products are purchased as an alternative to soda,

Two of the newest entries into the NA beer market come from popular brands that are known for their quality and taste.

Packaged in the brand’s traditional green, Heineken 0.0, appears visually indistinguishable from the original beverage. The brew is twice-brewed and fermented with the company’s unique A-yeast. They use the same quality ingredients to produce a beer that shares the fruity notes found in the original brew but with a “soft malty body.” The perfectly balanced and refreshing beer comes in at a mere 69 calories per serving and is priced on par with the original.

At only 45 calories per serving, Molson Coors Edge beer serves up the classic Coors lager taste with less than 0.5% alcohol by volume. The product is double-brewed and made with quality ingredients. The product made headlines when it became the first non-alcoholic beer to be offered on Amazon. The product is available in both six and 12 packs of 355ml cans via CJR Wholesale Distribution.



2020 Food Predictions

top down view of hands reaching for dinner

Forecasters have already begun to predict the major trends that will impact the manufacture, sale and consumer purchasing of food in 2020. 

The biggest news comes from the 10th annual edition of Canada’s Food Price Report, which anticipates prices to increase by 2-4% in 2020. With the annual food cost for the average Canadian family expected to rise to an annual cost of $12,667, an increase of $487 from 2019. The greatest increases will occur in the meat category, where tariffs and trade-deals are expected to cause a 4-6% increase.

Good-bye Single-Use Plastics (SUPs)

As Canada moves towards the elimination of SUPs, Canadians are firmly on-board. A study by Dalhousie University found that 94% of those surveyed had a strong personal motivation to reduce consumption. Consumers are no longer satisfied with the prospect of recycling food-based packaging. 

Shoppers are embracing stores that offer bulk bins and those that permit consumers to use their own containers, but want to see more options. With this increasing awareness of the global climate crisis and the impact of single-use plastics consumers will continue to push manufacturers and retailers to develop more sustainable and green-packaging for food products. 

Grocers like Loblaws will be piloting trial programs with TerraCycle’s Loop initiative. The program offers a circular packaging solution where containers are re-used repeatedly. Sobeys will eliminate plastic grocery bags completely. Retailers may also look towards innovative compostable bags rather than clam-shell plastic for produce and other goods. 

Unfortunately, these innovations come at a cost and many consumers are not willing to pay more for alternative packaging. The challenge for retailers will be how to embrace more environmentally-friendly methodologies without jeopardizing their commitment to quality, product safety and their bottom line. 


Keto: The Next “Gluten-Free”?

In 2020, Canadians will continue to focus on nutrition, by opting for plant-based proteins, organic and “functional foods” such as those including probiotics. 

2019 was the year of the Keto diet and in 2020 these foods will continue to be on-trend. A recent poll conducted by Dalhousie University found that 26% of Canadians adopted, tried or considered trying keto during the past 18 months. Ketogenic-friendly products are entering the market in exponential numbers, and the market is forecasted to grow by about 5.5% per year reaching $15.6 billion USD in 2027. 

The popular diet dramatically reduces carbohydrate consumption while increasing intake of “good fats” and protein. Combined with intermittent fasting, the diet claims to provide a number of health benefits in addition to quick weight loss. The careful balancing of macro-nutrients and exclusion of healthy food items such as most whole grains, fruits and vegetables make it a difficult diet to sustain long-term.

Curious consumers may be trending instead towards products marketed as “Slow-carb” as a means of integrating “keto-friendly” products into a less restrictive diet. Traditional carbohydrates can cause quick spikes in blood sugar and insulin levels. “Slow-carb” foods, by comparison, have a reduced impact on blood sugar and insulin levels and don’t cause the same spikes and surges. Many keto foods entering the market are now including a GI, or Glycemic Index number. This number corresponds to the impact on blood sugar after consumption, with lower numbers indicating a “slower” burn.

Trend-forecasters anticipate that Keto-friendly products, both those aimed at those following the strict regimen and those utilizing the more accessible slow-carb model, will continue to grow in demand. This trend looks like it may linger for years to come. Retailers should consider devoting shelf-space to these products and embracing these healthy foods as part of the mainstream. 



Are Consumers Outsourcing Their Connections to Food?

sunset over wheat field

We exist in a culture that celebrates being busy — prizing hours logged at the office or school, as well as juggling extracurriculars, hobbies and appointments. In all that hustle and bustle, we tend to sacrifice our relationship with food. Technology, services and products that promise to turn chores like grocery shopping, meal prep and cooking into simpler, quicker and more enjoyable activities are being readily embraced by consumers. Busy individuals have options like meal kits filled with pre-measured ingredients and recipe cards, online grocery shopping with either “click and collect” or delivery options, along with countless take-out delivery service providers to choose from. Even larger grocery retailers such as Longos, Metro and Loblaws are now offering meal kits and “click and collect” services to entice shoppers with the promise of saving time.

A 2018 study by Dalhousie University explored Canadian interest in these types of services and found that almost half of those surveyed did not subscribe to a meal kit service (and didn’t intend to), nor did they intend to purchase their food online  —  yet despite intentions, the number of people using on-the-go food services is rapidly rising. Many retailers are offering attractive incentives to encourage consumers to try these offerings — loyalty points, discounts and freebies — in the hopes of keeping customers from ordering from services like Uber Eats or Door Dash.

What do these trends really tell us about the relationship between consumers and the food they purchase? Will the shortcuts offered by boxed meal services discourage people from learning how to plan meals, shop for ingredients, do the prep work and essentially cook “from scratch”? Or might they serve as an introduction to culinary adventures, inspire food curiosity and minimize the inhibitions surrounding cooking?

Some argue that these conveniences may create a larger disconnect between the customer and the food industry resulting in something called “agricultural illiteracy,” and in an age of post-production, this illiteracy is growing. The Washington Post reported, “Today many [people] only experience food as an industrial product that doesn’t much look like the original animal or plant.” Agricultural facts known to every human on earth in the past, are being left behind. In fact, 16 million American adults believe chocolate milk comes from brown cows while 40% of 4th to 6th graders didn’t know that hamburger comes from cows.

Perhaps brands should focus on narrating the journey from farm to table like Without rekindling our relationship between food and farm, the gap between the food we eat and the way it is made will only grow.



Canadian Thanksgiving Traditions are Shifting

Time’s and traditions have changed, and the Canadian Thanksgiving table reflects that.

Gone are the days of the traditional meat and potatoes meal cooked by Mother for her nuclear family. The Turkey Farmers of Canada brought this new normal to light as they reimagined Norman Rockwell’s classic painting “Freedom from Want,” to reflect a more contemporary Canada (see below).

Thanksgiving has transitioned from a faith-based holiday to a time of gratitude for all that we have here in Canada. “Since Thanksgiving really is a holiday for all, the goal with these portraits is to welcome all Canadians of all ages and cultures to the tradition of the Thanksgiving turkey feast,” says Turkey Farmers of Canada representative Craig Evans.

Thanksgiving, along with Christmas, is still the leading contributor to Turkey sales accounting for 74% year-round. However, just over one in every four families (28%) bought a bird for Thanksgiving in 2018, indicating a shift away from the traditional that reflects what we’ve been seeing across the food industry as a whole. For Canadians, both the menu and the people have changed since Rockwell’s painting 75 years ago.

So what exactly are we seeing at the table this year?

  1. Everyone is pitching in. Pot luck has become a new norm. With each attendee arriving with a different dish, the holiday dinner now includes dietary or allergy considerations and focuses on quality over quantity.
  2. Find the standard turkey, potatoes, stuffing, rolls and canned cranberries a bit blasé? Diversity is coming to what’s on the table along with who is at it. Whether it’s allowing the vegetable sides to shine or going so far as to cook a Tofurky. With 1 in every 10 Canadians being vegetarian or vegan as of 2018 it’s likely someone at your feast is looking for an alternative.
  3. Pumpkin is for more than just pie (and lattes). This year there are more pumpkin recipes than ever before, including pasta, soup, chili, quiche, salad, you name it.

That being said, the turkey should still not be overlooked. Canadians shelled out $2.2 million dollars for their Thanksgiving turkeys in 2018, and predictions expect 2019’s numbers were very close.

For the Canadian food industry, Thanksgiving in 2019 is about making a seat at the table for everyone, and space on the table for everything.

Freedom from Want – Norman Rockwell – 1943
The re-imagined Canadian Thanksgiving by Turkey Farmers of Canada

How Millennials are Disrupting the Food Industry

millennials taking photos of food

We are living and eating in a millennial world.

Thanks to the largest consumer demographic (those born in the early 1980s to 2004) we have seen major shifts in the way food is ordered, prepped, and consumed over the last few years.  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the biggest cuisine trends on the rise, all have one thing in common – food accessibility has moved online.

Easy at Home

Millennials are finishing up their degrees and diplomas and entering the workforce with an appetite to get ahead. Their time is precious, and they want dinner on the table without all the preparation before and the mess after. A 2017 Food and Health Survey determined that 55% of millennial shoppers opt for convenience in determining what’s on their plate. Enter, the rise of delivery meal kits, groceries and takeout. All ordered with a couple of clicks on that extension of the hand, known as a smartphone.

Shareable Food

You don’t need to break bread around the table to share a meal with friends anymore. You can simply snap a picture and post it to your story, but it needs to look good. With millions of food pictures being shared each day, if a product is easy to Instagram it’s going to be cooked, clicked and maybe even actually consumed by the millennial crowd. Worth noting that this is also how this generation is finding the food they consume, so food providers are wise to put themselves and their product in front of the lens, maybe with a catchy hashtag attached. 

Conscious Consumption

 Those that make up this demographic are getting married and starting families and are concerned about the world they are leaving for the next generation. Choice making goes beyond reading the list of ingredients, to looking for key words such as organic, sustainable, and locally sourced. This generation of shopper wants to know not just the products impact on their body, but also on the land and animals. The rise of documentaries and series to binge on Netflix is an undeniable force driving this shift. The consumer knows more, so they want to do more with what they decide to eat and drink. Canada’s government recognized this shift this past Summer by making a number of alterations to the Food Guide

Snack Attack

The on-the-go 18 to 30 something is eating more than 3 meals a day. In fact, snacking now accounts for 50% of all eating. It’s simply more convenient to eat on the go, between appointments, or while multitasking. Snacking itself has changed from junk food to healthy alternatives. Snackers are reaching for fresh fruits and vegetables, healthier options and smaller portions, more frequently. Snackers are grabbing up convenience that is ready at their fingertips to pack and get going again.

To keep up with the times, food brands need to revisit some of the traditional methods that have “always worked.” Make it easy, make it accessible, make it post-worthy, make it sustainable. Make it millennial. 

The Beyond Meat Craze & the Future of Food

beyond meat packaging


Beyond Meat is on everyone’s lips these days, and we don’t just mean literally. Since last year when they signed a deal with burger chain A&W, Beyond Meat has exploded in the Canadian Market. Initially, A&W was flooded with such high demands from their product, nearly every location sold out within 24 hours. Most recently, Tim Horton’s partnered with the plant-based product to roll out three new sandwiches using the product. 


While Beyond Meat initially focused on getting their product into 27,000+ restaurants globally, they’ve turned their attention to B2C. Major grocery chains like Loblaws, Whole Foods, Metro and Sobeys now carry the plant-based patty and continues to find themselves sold-out.


But Beyond Meat isn’t the only company tapping into the “plant-based” craze. Using the term plant-based has opened up the market from consumers who aren’t “vegetarian” but are exploring the “plant-based” meat options. Plant-based seems to invoke less commitment from consumers while achieving the same result.  Market research estimates that the market for meat alternative has doubled in the last 5 years.


With plant-based alternatives popping up everywhere and a global shift towards ethical, environmental responsibility, it looks like “plant-based” is here to stay.