With the rising cost of living, bringing food to the table has become challenging for many. Are some grocery stores perhaps within a reasonable distance for Sandy Hill residents, all else being equal, cheaper than others? I did some investigating to try and find out.
First, some background: In a 2022 report, the Competition Bureau Canada stated: “In 2022, Canada’s three largest grocers — Loblaws, Sobeys, and Metro—collectively reported more than $100 billion in sales and earned more than $3.6 billion in profits.” The report goes on to state that “[m]ost Canadians buy groceries in stores owned by a handful of grocery giants…” and that “…[f]or new players and regional independents, the Canadian grocery industry is tough to break into.” Indeed, I believe Canada needs more grocery competition.
I decided to do some comparison shopping. I left on the afternoon of November 9 to visit a few popular grocery stores. I picked stores that were relatively close to Sandy Hill, namely, Loblaws at 363 Rideau Street, Metro at 50 Beechwood Avenue, Freshco at 320 McArthur Avenue, and Walmart at 450 Terminal Avenue.
A few of my findings on price variations are listed below:
- 1lb. of Brussel sprouts $2.99 at Freshco; $3.99 at Metro; $4.99 at Loblaws
- One head of cauliflower: $3.99 at Freshco; $4.99 at Metro; $5.99 at Loblaws; $4.97 at Walmart
- A single seedless English cucumber: $1.79 at Freshco; $1.99 at Metro; $2.49 at Loblaws; $1.77 at Walmart
- 2.5kg bag of Robin Hood all-purpose flour: $5.99 at Freshco; $6.49 at Metro (on sale down from $7.49); $7.49 at Loblaws
- 850g of Vector Jumbo cereal: $9.99 at Freshco; $8.99 at Metro; $11.99 at Loblaws; $9.77 at Walmart
These comparisons, while useful, do not account for a number of factors that are relevant when determining grocery cost effectiveness. For instance, is quality preserved across lower-priced produce? Do some grocery stores offer better points cards than others? Likewise, prices that are lower in one store today for one item could be higher the next day based on promotional offers and availability.
Based on my understanding and research, I gather that slight price variations across various grocery stores is a given based on where these items are sourced (local, international) as well as the efficiency of the supply chain. Price variations can also depend upon differences in store location, which can determine how fast the items are moved in and out. The quicker inventory turnover is, the lower the probable chances of dealing with poor quality, lapsed best before dates, or overripe produce.
To address the ongoing issue of food costs, last September the Federal Government initiated a meeting with executives of the top five grocery stores. Whether this meeting will amount to any real change in food prices remains to be seen. Until food prices come down significantly, or wages increase significantly, the question of where to buy one’s groceries will likely be at the forefront of many people’s minds. I hope that this preliminary investigation will lead to a more comprehensive one down the road.
My girlfriend came home today and informed me of a very sad situation. She told me a story of meeting an elderly woman, one who is in the neighbourhood and with whom she often chats. The lady was not in her usual good spirits. Citing the unaffordability of food as well as the recent increases in her rent and in her electricity bill at her Sandy Hill apartment, she, with great embarrassment and shame in her voice, asked my partner for a bit of money to go buy some milk and bread. Her pension doesn’t cover living expenses anymore, she explained. She also mentioned that she never thought that she’d end up “this way” after working all her life. Grocery, energy, and housing unaffordability in Canada are, I argue, reaching the point of existential or humanitarian crises. There is no good reason, as far as I can tell, for a first world nation rich in natural resources and human talent to be going through this indignity. In other words, I believe a failure (e.g., in leadership, in market regulation, in investment, in social organization more generally) has occurred. In my view, one thing that is required is an impartial, independent public inquiry that will get to the root(s) of this grotesque tripartite unaffordability immiserating good Canadians everywhere.