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.



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