Grocery shopping 101: The basics
By Amanda Owusu
Posted on January 13, 2021
Something that many hate to do but can’t live without.
Grocery shopping can be an annoying chore especially when you’re in a new area. However, it does not have to be like this!
With a clear plan, many smartphone applications, and new delivery services, grocery shopping in Canada is now simpler than ever before.
This article is a basic guide to grocery shopping in Canada meant to provide you with helpful information to make your shopping days easier and cheaper.
Types of grocery stores
In most of Canada, you have a selection of grocery stores to choose from. Some grocery stores are pricier than others; some carry organic or cultural foods, and some have better quality produce. There are many different options, and deciding the type of shopping experience you want to have will help you choose the best grocery store for you.
Grocery stores usually have the same physical layout. You can always find milk and eggs at the back of the grocery store. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually at the end of the store, and frozen foods are at the other end. In the middle, you can find dried goods and canned foods. By knowing the store layout, you can save time during your shopping trips and avoid having to go back and forth to find what you need.
When shopping, it’s also good to “shop in season”. This means purchasing fruits and vegetables based on what is growing the most during that season of the year. For instance, blueberries and rutabaga are cheaper in the spring.Canadian Living provides a buying guide with a detailed list of fruits and vegetables based on their season.
If your focus is on saving money, looking for a more affordable grocery store will be your best bet. In Canada, some economical grocery stores include Freshco, Food Basics, NoFrills, Walmart, Save On Foods and ValuMart. These stores have a small selection of halal, kosher, and vegan products. A label indicating the type of product can be found in the product’s package. It’s important to note that affordable stores do not offer as much variety as the more costly Canadian grocery stores. You can also buy some grocery products such as bread, snacks, seasoning, and other dry goods from dollar stores like Dollarama and Bulk Barn. Keep in mind that Dollarama does not offer fresh products when planning your shopping trip.
More expensive grocery stores in Canada include places like Fortinos, Whole Foods, Loblaws, Sobeys, The Real Canadian Superstore, Metro, Safeway and Longos. These places tend to have higher prices, but carry better quality produce and products. Although these places are typically more expensive than other stores, you can still take advantage of the sales that each store has. At these stores, you can also find a wide selection of kosher, vegan, gluten-free, and halal food. Some stores such as Fortinos, Whole Foods, and Longos have dedicated sections to vegan and gluten-free products. Longos and Sobeys also usually offer a nice selection of kosher and halal products.
You can also find stores that cater to these individual products by googling “the type of food you’re looking for” plus “grocery store” plus “the city you’re in” (e.g. kosher grocery Thornhill). These stores will carry a greater selection of the type of food you’re looking for. Unlike Canadian grocery stores that tend to offer only popular products in the kosher, halal, vegan, and gluten-free category, these stores tend to sell more specific product types. Bigger cities usually have more of these stores than smaller cities.
Some of these grocery stores also have loyalty saving programs that you can sign up for. By signing up for these programs, you usually earn points depending on how much you spend. You can usually exchange these points for savings and other great perks. Sobeys has partnered with American Airlines to allow you to earn airmiles every time you buy a product. You can also sign up for a PC Optimum card to earn points (click here), which you can use to save money on your purchases. Loblaws, NoFrills, Valu-Mart, The Real Canadian Superstore, and many other stores offer this type of rewards system.
Another option is to buy an annual membership pass for a place like Costco. Costco is known for its warehouse and wholesale-style shopping experience that offers members bulk quantities of products at extremely discounted prices. For instance, you can get hot-dogs for just $1.50 and a whole rotisserie chicken for just $7.99. Annual memberships start at $60 and provide you with a wide variety of benefits. Although this may seem like a more expensive option due to its upfront membership fee, depending on your situation, it may also save you more money in the long run. Your savings may end up adding up to be the same or more than the cost of the membership itself. Costco also provides other great services, such as optical services, printing services, and gas, which can help you save even more.
Alternatively, you can also choose to shop at smaller grocery retailers and farmer’s markets. Here, you can often find fresher produce or organic produce, sometimes at a lower price. At farmer’s markets, farmers bring their own freshly grown produce to sell to the public. Smaller grocery retailers also often buy their products directly from local farmers. The savings and selection may not always be the best with these options. However, shopping with these retailers usually helps out small business owners versus corporations like Walmart and Sobeys, which may be important to you.
Due to the diverse nature of Canada’s population, many major grocery stores offer cultural food and products. While many of these products can be found in the “International Foods” aisle, they may not always have the best selection or offer the products that you are looking for. No need to worry; many major Canadian cities have cultural food grocery stores and shops, where you can get your favorite foods. For instance, in Mississauga, Ont., there is an Asian-Caribbean supermarket chain named Oceans. You can find cultural food stores in your area by googling “the country or culture” + “grocery store” + “city/place you’re in”. (example: Indian Grocery Store Toronto).
Most of these stores, except the independent food retailers and farmers’ markets, offer online flyers where you can see the discounts and specials of the week for the store closest to you. You can use these flyers to help plan your shopping trip and save money. You can easily find them by googling the name of the grocery store you’re interested in with the word “flyer” (e.g. “Freshco flyer”). You can learn more about the different sales at each grocery store through flyers or the Flipp App. We will talk more about this app and the great deals it offers in more detail in the next section of the article.
If you prefer online shopping, Amazon also offers a grocery selection on their website. There, you can search for the products you’re looking for and purchase them online to be delivered right to your home. Amazon has a wide variety of products and selections, as they are online and can connect you with many different vendors through their website. This online store does not, however, offer fresh food at the moment, but they carry everything else. They also sell specialty foods such as kosher, organic, halal, vegan, gluten-free, vegetarian, GMO-free, and sugar-free products. Keep in mind that these products tend to be more expensive through Amazon than if you were to get them in-store, unless they are features in a special sale. Although Amazon is more expensive, the price you pay for delivery to get the products brought to your doorstep may be worth it to you, depending on your needs.
When shopping at physical grocery stores, you have the option to bring your own plastic bags and totes. In Canada, many grocery stores charge you extra for the bags you use to carry your items home. You can avoid this fee by bringing bags of your own. You can buy good bags and totes from any dollar store or even at the grocery store itself. Or you can also save your plastic bags and bring them with you when you go grocery shopping.
Whatever your choice, it’s important to have a goal and priorities in mind when selecting your grocery store in order to make your shopping experience better.
To save even more money, you should take advantage of the sales each store has to offer. This way you can get what you need from where it is cheapest. This might take a bit more time because you’re going to more than one store, but it just might be worth the money. Some stores offer price-matching. This means that they will match the price of other stores if you show them a flyer from another store with a lower price. For example, if you’re shopping at NoFrills, and you see a product on sale for cheaper at Walmart, you can bring in the Walmart flyer, which shows that the product in question is advertised at a lower price, and NoFrills will match that price. This is a great way to get even more discounted prices when shopping. The apps discussed below can further help you with price-matching.
Three smartphone apps that can help with grocery shopping
We live in a society dominated by technology, which luckily for us can help us shop for groceries. Below are three smartphone apps that can make shopping easier.
Flipp is a great app for saving money and finding deals. It is a smartphone app that shows you a wide variety of flyers with the specials of that week for the grocery stores near you. Flipp even provides you with access to special coupons to help you save while shopping. You can view the specials and discounts at different stores from your phone and even save these items to your account, so that you can check them again when it comes time to shop. This app is free and available on Google Play Store and the App Store.
For whatever reason, sometimes you can’t make it to the store yourself. When that happens, you can order groceries using this app from almost any store of your choice and have someone deliver it right to your home. This app is available in most major cities in Canada. Usually, you do not get your groceries as soon as you order them, so don’t wait until the last minute if you need them by a certain time. This app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
Mealboard allows you to plan your meals, write your grocery lists, and search for recipes through a single app. This app can help you save time and money, as it can allow you to plan your meals and do research using the recipe search. After having planned your meals and done research, you can make a grocery list with all the items you want to get. This single app offers many benefits that can help you in many different ways when it comes to grocery shopping and meal planning. This app is available on the App Store and Google Play.
Although this article is about grocery shopping, we must acknowledge that not everyone will always be able to afford food at times. When this occurs, it is important to know how you can access food banks in Canada.
Most post-secondary institutions in Canada offer food bank services to their students. If you attend a post-secondary institution in Canada, your school more than likely has a food bank that you can access. Try reaching out to your program advisor or a peer mentor for more information. You can also google the name of your school plus “food bank,” and some information regarding how to access it should appear.
If you’re not a student, you also have options. Depending on your area, there are many Community Food Banks that help people during a time of need. You just have to connect with one of them. Use Google to search for the closest food bank to you. Call and ask them for more details about how to sign up, and someone should be able to help you. Some nationally recognized food banks are: Daily Bread and Food Banks Canada. These are just two of the countless food banks that are out there that can assist you.
For more information and local services offered to you, try googling “food bank” and the name of your city or neighborhood. If this does not work, you can try to connect with one of the two major Community Food Banks mentioned above.
**Please note that due to COVID-19 health care measures and restrictions, some farmer’s markets and small grocery retailers are temporarily closed. However, many of the major stores are still open.