Nov. 10, 2020

Is the coronavirus changing how we eat?

President's Blog
Margaret Hudson
President, Burnbrae Farms
4th Generation Farmer

Is the coronavirus changing how we eat?

As we soldier on, it seems that we’re all getting used to living in a “new normal” when it comes to shopping, prepping, and eating meals. For some, that means more patio dining, online grocery orders and cooking from scratch. Others are still grocery shopping in person and dining in restaurants. I find it fascinating to see how Canadians across the nation are adapting their eating habits during a pandemic, and I’ve been keeping up with the emerging trends. Here’s what I see.

Grocery shopping

Unsure of what would unfold, some Canadians stocked up to prepare for the unknown. Back in March, a survey from Dalhousie University found that 41 percent of Canadians had loaded up on food provisions because of the outbreak. Thirty percent of Canadians purchased dry and canned goods, while 24 percent opted for frozen foods.

But many other people did not stock up because they rightfully assumed that they would still be able to get groceries and other essentials during the pandemic. As we now know, the supply chain from farm to grocery stores (and everything in between) remained open and continues to remain open, committed to meeting the needs of Canadians. At Burnbrae Farms, our dedicated team stayed focused on keeping our colleagues safe, our farms and processing operations open and eggs flowing to Canadian families.  And as we head into wave 2 of this pandemic, the Hudson family and our Burnbrae colleagues remain committed to serving Canadian families through this crisis. I am so very proud of our incredible team!

CTV News reports that the number of consumers who choose to shop online has increased and is likely here to stay. Pundits say it’s unlikely that Canadians will revert to their old ways entirely. E-commerce has increased with many companies by upwards of 30 percent. Before the pandemic, online food sales accounted for 2 percent of all food sales, and that has since doubled .

Overall food prices have increased by about four percent across Canada. Food companies have had to take on a lot of extra cost to deal with supply chain disruptions and implement protocols to keep everyone safe. Researchers at Dalhousie say that many Canadians will still feel a savings in their food budgets, since they are eating at home more and dining out less. But the increase in food costs is also challenging for the many Canadians who were struggling with food insecurity even before COVID. The number of Canadians experiencing food insecurity has increased.

Planning and cooking meals

The old habit of visiting grocery stores a few times a week is a thing of the past. Now many Canadians are making fewer grocery trips – maybe once every week or two – and are stocking up on each visit. There is a heightened awareness of one’s own kitchen inventory, and grocery lists are becoming more important. A survey conducted on behalf of Hello Fresh found that Canadians are being more resourceful and open to trying new things to save another trip to the grocery store:

- 34 per cent of people are now planning their shopping trip ahead of time

- 49 per cent are looking for ways to use the ingredients in their pantry, refrigerator, and freezer

- 48 per cent said they will do more saving and budgeting now

The same survey found that Canadians are incorporating more meat and vegetables into their diet, beating out carbs, snack foods and desserts. And that’s consistent with another important trend: the increase in the number of Canadians cooking at home.

According to Nielsen data, 40 precent of Canadians reported cooking more often during the early days of Covid (March-April, 2020). A survey conducted in June by Goldbeck Recruiting shows that it’s not a fleeting trend, and that home cooking is here to stay. Fifty-three percent of respondents noted that they prepared more food at home, and 46 percent plan to spend less on food prepared outside the home going forward.

Why is this important? Well, home-cooked meals tend to be generally healthier than restaurant food or take-out, since cooks can control the amount of salt, sugar, and fat that they add. And while it’s good news for our health, it’s bad news for restaurants. According to a new survey from Restaurants Canada , the majority of foodservice businesses across the country are still operating at a loss and could take at least a year to return to profitability.

So, there’s lots to think about! The one thing I’m certain of is the resiliency of Canadians, and our willingness to be open to change. I never thought I’d be ordering groceries online or baking sourdough bread from scratch, but no one really expected any of 2020, did we?

Margaret Hudson,

President, Burnbrae Farms