Year in Review in the Grocery Industry

grocery store worker wearing mask

2020 has challenged all Canadians in many ways, but none so much as the front-line workers, who have been just awarded the Nation Builder of the Year Award. 

Food retailers and their frontline workers have done an incredible job continuously adapting as protocols shift and change in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging Canada. 

After 10 months of “new normal,” Grocery stores and their supply chains have pivoted their services and built systems to help keep customers safe and serviced. Food suppliers from farm to table have been the centre of local communities for thousands of years, and the familiarity and trust they’ve always had has only increased. With 2020 nearly over, here’s a snapshot of everything the grocery industry has been through this year:



  • 2020 began with single-use plastic at an all-time low
  • Grocery delivery apps predicted to rise by 7% in the next few years 



  • essential items like toilet paper, eggs, milk sold out
  • hand sanitizer demand booms
  • delivery service app downloads surge
  • 80 billion dollar food service industry is virtually decimated
  • CJR Wholesale one of the only grocery suppliers that does not run out of essential products


  • Essential product supply gets reinforcement and shortages are replenished
  • masks, plexiglass, new cleaning protocols, and limited capacity for foot traffic in grocery stores  are standardized
  • Physical distancing and enhanced safety procedures increase operation costs by 5% 
  • Hero pay officially implemented
  • Some stores providing early hours to front line workers and seniors only 


  • Canada adapts to the new normal and all major grocery stores and their suppliers give up reluctance to plan for grocery delivery and adapted procedures
  • Baking ingredient sales are at an all time high 
  • Terms like “contactless delivery” are normalized
  • Prime Minister announces plan to amend the Canadian Dairy Commission Act and increase the Canadian Dairy Commission’s (CDC) borrowing limit by $200 million

June, July & August


  • Data suggest 700,000 Canadians have experience food insecurity since March
  • Schools open and huge spikes in COVID-19 cases result
  • Indigenous seafood suppliers experience acts of vandalism
  • Grocery sales dip as restaurants reopen
  • Tensions between suppliers and grocery stores grow due to increased fees

October & November

  • Nova Scotia farmers receive 1.2 million to offset COVID costs
  • Indigenous seafood suppliers begin negotiations with government to protect treaties 
  • Covid cases increase after thanksgiving gatherings
  • Conversations around COVID-19 vaccine provide hope for Canadian businesses in every industry
  • Some Hero Pay reinstated


  • Second lockdown in Toronto & the GTA 
  • Restaurants are far better prepared than in March 2020 and have adapted their service offerings to meet grey zone criteria in Ontario
  • Restaurants are required to close for the second time in 2020 


What’s next for 2021? Leave your comments below.

10 Food & Beverage Brands Canadians Love

Popular beverage brands displayed

Supermarkets in 2020 are filled with an overwhelming array of products, all vying for consumer attention. But, when consumers find a brand they trust and enjoy, they tend to stay loyal for life. These are some of the most popular companies and products in the food and beverage space:

Kraft Heinz

Kraft Heinz has an incredible history in Canada, producing food that Canadians adore. The Heinz Kraft company is the third-largest food and beverage company in North America. In 2017 Statista reported that Kraft Heinz Canada ULC was the leading food and beverage company in Canada.


Nestlé Canada also has strong roots in Canada, not only do they produce great products but they work to reduce their environmental impact and improve communities. Recently, Nestlé Canada announced a new partnership with the NHL.


Tropicana expanded into Canada in 1991 and has become a refreshing breakfast addition. With “100% of your daily vitamin C is in every glass,” Tropicana products have become a staple in the Canadian diet.

Pepsi Foods/Beverages

PepsiCo’s product portfolio includes a wide range of enjoyable foods and beverages. PepsiCo Canada has also made an impact by supporting Canadians affected by COVID-19 across the country. The PepsiCo Foundation announced multiple initiatives to support Canadian communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Coca-Cola arrived in Canada over 120 years ago. One of their original facilities was located near Trinity Bellwoods Park. With such a strong involvement in Canada, it is no surprise that their iconic soft drinks are an absolute customer favourite.

Fiji Water

Co-founded by Canadian businessman David Gilmour, Fiji Water is committed to investing in its communities and the environment. It’s also considered Earth’s Finest Water®. 


Hershey’s Chocolate is a classic treat for every candy lover. It is also North America’s largest chocolate manufacturer. Hershey continues to create fun, exciting, and unique flavours for Canadian chocoholics.


Under the umbrella of PepsiCo Canada, Gatorade has been quenching the thirsts of athletes for years. Their variety of flavours meet the demands of a huge customer base and have dedicated numerous resources to education in the areas of exercise, sports science and nutrition.


Perrier Sparkling Natural Spring Water has delighted beverage seekers for generations. The blend of carbonation and minerals is responsible for a world-famous taste. Perrier continues to surprise and delight with new flavours and products.

Minute Maid

The Coca-Cola-owned brand has been serving Canadian families since 1950 and is a “highly trusted brand.”  Minute Maid boasts a number of flavourful juices that have become a classic and delicious delight, enjoyed by many across North America.

Other trends to keep an eye on include non-alcoholic beers. Brands like Heineken 0.0 and Molson Coors Edge have made a splash since 2019. Read more about it here.

Canada plays host to an acclaimed line-up of food and beverage brands and we at CJR Wholesalers are extremely proud to distribute them.

The Effects of “COVID Fatigue” on the Grocery Industry

CJR trucks outside of warehouse

On October 5th, 2020 the Canadian Grocer released a story on customer behaviour. While all roles that deal with customers have some risk of uncomfortable interactions, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has taken “bad customer” to a whole new level.

From packaging facilities to truck drivers to grocery stores, some customers are giving the grocery industry a hard time. Diane Brisebois, president and CEO of the Retail Council of Canada says “COVID fatigue is contributing to more and more customers behaving badly. Our retailers, including grocers, are the storefront to society and unfortunately have to deal with customers who don’t appreciate the health and safety measures currently in place.”

Multiple videos of such confrontations have gone viral across Canada and the USA including coughing, spitting, property destruction and more.

Not What Employees Signed Up For

Today, the grocery store employee has been assigned a role they never asked for: safety enforcement. Not only are they expected to ask customers to wear masks and keep their distance, but they are also expected to enforce these rules to individuals who are tired, scared and sick of this pandemic.

Rick Rabba, President of Rabba Fine Foods says he witnessed two grown men shouting and shoving each other out of frustration over social distancing issues. “I was able to de-escalate the situation before there was any violence, but not before yogurt had been splashed all over the aisle out of anger.”

Why Are People Acting Out?

So why are people angrier than usual? In a Hopkins Medicine Article, Psychologist Carisa Parrish addresses some of the reasons people are acting out. She says “most people are still removed from the consequences of getting COVID-19. The risk might not feel real to them if they don’t know anyone who’s sick.”  Everyone’s mental health has been suffering, especially lower-income individuals, those who live alone, and families with young children in need of care. 

But that does not make it acceptable to mistreat frontline workers. 

The Cost of Safety

When stores are dealing with unending lines and impatient, nervous customers, workers can’t always maintain a six-foot distance from people and clean their hands regularly.  Many customers don’t realize the implications of safety guidelines. For example, washing hands every 20 minutes means less staff on the floor restocking shelves and longer lineups at the cash. 

These basic safety measures which are required by Health Canada to keep Canadians safe, have a cost. 

The good news is that the number of disruptive customers is 1 or 2 in 100. Many more individuals express deep gratitude to their local grocery stores, truck drivers and distributors, for their ongoing efforts to keep them fed. 


Back-to-School Food Trends

woman putting food in lunchbox

With schools across the country reopening, a lot of measures are being put in place this “back to school” year. Children’s health has always been a concern, but now more than ever parents are prioritizing their health and safety — and that includes the foods children are putting in their bodies. Here are some of the types of foods you can expect in their lunch boxes this fall.

Mini Bars & Snack Bars

Bars can provide quick and convenient nourishment and can be healthier than food from vending machines, concession stands, and even fast food. Bars that are free from nuts, dairy and artificial flavours and colours often serve as a popular school option due to allergies and the sensitivities of other children. Some great options include Kellogg’s and General Mills products.

Protein High Foods

Parents are really focused on protein, or rather the lack of protein, their children consume. Foods with a significant amount of protein can include seeds, fish, yogurt, chicken, jams, smoothies, nut-based spreads and much more. The foods are lunch kit friendly and are filling as well as healthy. Smucker’s is a popular spread and  Liberté is a great option for healthy, organic yogurt.

Beverages & Yogurts

A lunch kit is not complete without a tasty beverage. Juice boxes, coconut water and smoothies have been popular for the last few years, but yogurt drinks are on the rise.  Brands like Oasis and Yoplait are great options for parents looking for a healthy addition to their child’s lunch.


The term “superfood” is popping up in more and more conversations around food and health. The word generally refers to foods that are rich in nutrients and are considered to be extremely good for our health and well-being. Foods such as salmon, blueberries, chia seeds, nuts, and kale are some of the most common superfoods. Superfoods are full of necessary components that are great for development, making them a popular option for parents. Clover Leaf’s new snack products have great salmon and tuna lunch kits.


COVID-19 has shifted consumers’ attention toward their health more than ever and that won’t be going away any time soon.

Three Reasons Canadians are Buying Local

Inside a CJR warehouse a forklift loads boxes of food

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we go about our daily lives. It has affected how we travel, work, interact and of course how we shop. Within a short period of time, grocery shopping, once a routine errand has now become a strange and unfamiliar experience. From buying more online to searching out local products, the recent pandemic seems to have forced a significant change in consumer behaviour in Canada. Although consumer purchases have been centred around necessities there is believed to be a shift towards embracing and buying locally sourced products for three main reasons.

  1. Food Safety
  2. Supporting Canadian Companies
  3. Geography

Food Safety
Canadians are concerned about food safety including where their food is coming from and whether the packaging is COVID-19 free, despite CDC statistics. Produce, meat, and other foods can travel across numerous borders before finally landing in our homes which leaves many to think about all the people who may have come into contact with their food along the way. A shorter supply chain could translate to more transparency, which could ease consumer fears.

Supporting Canadian Companies
COVID-19 has hit our economy hard. More than ever, Canadians need to support other Canadians. This affects every part of the food chain including where the food is grown, the brands themselves, the distribution and packaging centres, the stores where the food is sold and the people who work in those stores. CJR is proud to carry many Canadian brands like Maple Leaf Foods, Mars Canada Inc., Canada Bread and more. We are also Canadian owned and operated.

You know what else has become a priority? How close to home that food is. People are sticking to their immediate neighbourhoods to avoid travelling or leaving the security of their homes for long periods of time. More and more people are shopping at the closest supermarket and convenience stores. Rabba Fine Foods is one such company who’s 30+ locations in the GTA are open 24/7 with all grocery essentials. Many have turned to Rabba as a source of reliable groceries as their standards for keeping stores clean and safe have exceeded many others.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could last for a very long time and potentially change consumer habits forever. 

How COVID-19 Is Changing Consumer Behavior

gloved hands picking up shopping bags during covid-19

Successful businesses have always known the importance of aligning their operations with trending consumer behaviours. As society progresses, the needs and expectations of consumers often adjust as well. From new information becoming accessible to the growth of social influence, there are numerous reasons for why we might change the way we consume. The outbreak of COVID-19 will have an enduring impact on our society and economy and has already altered the way many of us shop. It is likely that consumers will still be convenience-driven however, there is a new significant focus on health and safety. This will be even more apparent in the food industry. To maintain competitiveness, grocers and other food outlets will have to ensure not just convenience, but also the well-being of their customers.

Online ordering and e-commerce
Online shopping was adopted by many long before the pandemic, but with countries going into lockdown it meant everyone had to get on board with e-commerce. Those who were unfamiliar with shopping online were forced to give it go, and many liked it. Having your food delivered or ready for a quick curbside pick-up was not only convenient but also safe. Many brick and mortar stores have postponed the ability to pay with cash, centring on contactless payments. Cash can travel through so many different hands whereas contactless payment methods require no hand to hand exchange. With many realizing the ease of contactless and online shopping the growth of this trend is inevitable.

Save and stockpile
COVID-19 has meant many have had to reprioritize what they spent their money on while also reinforcing the importance of saving for the unexpected. Although we are seeing fewer empty aisles, consumers are still looking to make fewer trips to the grocery stores. This means shoppers may tend to stock up or make bigger orders all in one go. Businesses are going to have to manage their inventory carefully so that they can have the in-demand items readily available. Food shopping will always be a necessity, but for many, cutting back on luxury items and sticking with basics is a new reality.

Brand transparency
Businesses and even individuals are being held to a new standard. During these tentative times, consumers are interested in hearing how companies are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, consumers may expect brands to shift their business priorities and resources in response to current challenges. Buying preferences could be affected by how businesses act during these times.

Moving forward
The pandemic is having an enormous impact on daily life across the world which is why we are seeing a change in consumer consumption. Many businesses have done well to adapt and meet the needs of their customers but will have to stay vigilant as there is still a level of hesitation on what comes next.

How Technology is Transforming the Food Industry

man driving forklift in warehouse

“The advance of technology is based on making it fit in so that you don’t really even notice it, so it’s part of everyday life.”
Bill Gates, 2001

When you think about food, technology is hardly the first thing that comes to mind. However, technology is increasingly contributing to food’s journey from the farm to the fork. Innovative advancements such as 3D printers, robotics, sensors, drones, and more are continuing to revolutionize the way we produce, package, and consume food.

According to a recent report from ING, technology is helping food manufacturers produce more efficiently for a growing population. There are 37.59 million people in Canada right now, a figure that is only rising, which means there is a higher demand for food each year. To keep up with the ever-increasing needs of society, food and industry experts are proposing a rethink towards the methodology of the food industry. The combination of technology and food has already started changing the food and beverage industry, introducing new potentials and capabilities.

3D Printing
In the past few years, 3D printing has really taken off and is now being used in nearly every industry. From pizzas to personalized foods, 3D printing is being adopted for producing all kinds of food items. NASA has been funding and looking into ways to print food for its astronauts whilst in space. 3D food could also change the way we eat. 3D printers would allow us to modify the texture of food which could heavily affect consumer consumption. Although it has potential benefits, there is an absence of evidence on whether 3D printed food meets all the health and safety regulations, so far.

The use of machines in the food industry also ensures quality and efficiency. It can drive down production and storage costs whilst increasing productivity. Robots offer a wide range of opportunities and can affect every link in the chain. Robotic applications include butchery and product sorting. The automation of this process has improved safety and consistency. Robotics are being introduced into agriculture, packaging, delivery and cooking in an attempt to produce better quality and sustainable food.

Precision agriculture is also known as satellite farming is a modern farming management practice based on making production more efficient. Drones allow farmers to monitor crop yields from planting to harvest, under almost any weather conditions. Drones can be used to locate and identify diseased or damaged crops allowing farmers to react quickly to threats. The use of drones and other robotics does not eliminate the need for food workers but will help them be more efficient and safer in their work.

Redefining the future
Where the food industry will be in the years to come will depend on industry creativity. Technology will become smarter and more advanced and our relationship with food will alter because of that. With consumers expecting healthier products, food producers wanting to increase efficiency, and society shifting towards sustainability, technology will continue to develop and impact the food industry.

Technology plays an important role here at CJR Wholesale too. In the last year we have invested in more environmentally friendly vehicles and machinery to do our part in minimizing our carbon footprint.

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.