Grocery Shopping Tips

How super are supermarkets in Canada?

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Every year I’m a resident in Canada it seems to me were getting more and more like the Britain I left behind.

The Supermarket is a prime example of the changing face that always seems to be behind the times. But what I tend to notice is a large shift to emulating the old country and the ways we do things.


The point of points


The brand new PC Plus points and coupon scheme recently launched caught my eye mainly due to the fact that is so similar to Tesco’s Clubcard points program in the UK.

Every time you shop in that supermarket data is collected and used to determine what you buy most often, how much, your average budget spend on groceries and other revealing facts etc.

This data collected is analysed and used to send you offers and coupons that are more tailored to the individual rather than the masses through a flyer.

Tesco’s Clubcard rewards launched in the UK approximately 9 years ago has been part of the huge success leading to the company’s phenomenal growth.

The highly personalized Clubcard vouchers or coupons and offers it generates for its customer base tries to encourage more spending by targeting a specific part of our spending habits.


Delivering the goods


I can’t say that I’ve seen it yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see an online shopping and delivery service start here in Canada very soon. I would imagine that for geographical reasons that the delivery service would probably be restricted to more densely populated areas.

Back home (yes, it is still considered home) in the UK before I left there was a growing trend in online grocery shopping combined with a delivery service. The idea being that those of us with extremely busy lives or those who don’t have a car can still do the weekly shop without the hassle of actually going there.

There is Tesco groceries online, Waitrose online groceries and Sainsbury’s online groceries to mention but a few. There could well be many more that have since jumped on to the home delivery service bandwagon.

It sounds great, but it’s not something I ever indulged in. I’m a much more tactile guy who actually likes to see what he’s buying and check the quality of the fruit and veg that I’m going to purchase. I like to pick up products and compare them side by side.

The problem is with the online experience is that you only click what you want to buy. Someone in a picking and distribution warehouse actually does the shopping for you and they’re not as picky as you.

I’ve seen first had the results of online shopping because my sister used the service on multiple occasions and some of the product does not look pretty upon receiving the goods.

The other concern with online grocery shopping is the fact that if the product is out of stock then nothing will be sent to you unless you have stated an alternative. This leads to the question, How do I know that they really ran out of stock and they aren’t just pushing another product?


The finest


Our-Finest-Walmart-Dijon-MustardWhen you visit a Wal-mart these days you’ll notice they introduced a range called “Our Finest” which is presented in snazzy silver cardboard presentation packaging. Looks pretty good, like an up market no name brand.

Sorry Wal-mart but Tesco’s from the UK was there before you and by quite a number of years. Strangely enough Tesco’s Finest range is also presented in a snazzy silver cardboard presentation package.

Does this mean that Wal-mart is trying to emulate Tesco’s success? Maybe, considering they do already compete directly with each other in the UK with Wal-mart going under a different moniker that is Asda.


Check it out


I’ve previously talked about the self-scan checkout and how they were already in use in the UK approximately 10 years ago.

It just seems we’re a little behind the times here on a constant basis. That being said I still enjoy the face to face experience you get with a cashier. The friendly and sometimes not so friendly faces that serve you at the checkout can actually process your shopping faster than you can at the self-service.

The point of the self scan I’m guessing is to get as many people through the exit with shopping in hand without having to pay out more wages. Machines don’t need health benefits either and certainly don’t require breaks. It makes me wonder what the face of the future supermarket will look like.


The British invasion


I couldn’t believe my eyes a few weeks ago when I saw Chef Jaime Oliver doing a celebrity endorsement for Sobey’s and then again promoting his new Jaime Oliver Discovers Canada range for the supermarket chain. He’s probably one of the more likeable TV chefs possibly because he’s so down to earth and honest when he’s showing the audience that cooking can be fun and flavourful at the same time.

The thing that worried me is the fact that Mr Oliver always prided himself on the fresh ingredients used in his cooking but now his knocking out pre-made dinners in plastic tubs. There’s always a bunch of UK cooking shows on TV these days too, mainly on the wife’s favourite “Food Network”. Unfortunately they haven’t got my favourite in to the country yet, Nigella Lawson, but they do have Nigella Lawson recipes and her TV show.




Correct me if I’m wrong people of the UK but I could have swore shopping bags were not free when I left the country. I believe you have to pay for a plastic shopping bags just as we do in Canada but yet again I think we got stung for those first too.

The going rate for a shopping bag in Canadian supermarkets is 5 cents, but it’s been so long I don’t know how much is costs my fellow Brits to buy a bag. There are alternatives to paying for bags though. Take you own reusable shopping bags or use the free traditional cardboard boxes from the front of the store.

Shopping carts here in Canada take a deposit of 25 cents which is crazy cheap for the deposit while shopping trolleys in the UK usually take a £1 coin, which converted to Canadian dollars is $1.68. Would you pay that much for a shopping cart? I know one thing for certain, you wouldn’t find many carts with the deposit left inside.


Expanding the influence


Now I have seen a small number of these gas stations owned and operated I’m assuming by the associated supermarket they share the land with. Grocery stores with Petrol filling stations combined together in the UK are very popular.

All the big players in the UK have gas stations attached and usually combine deals to get more customers spending more of their money at one store.

The main idea is, when you spend “X” amount in store you’ll receive a discount or coupon for the filling station to get cheaper gas per litre. That’s great and I should know because I used to take advantage of that one every time.

Now I just use the online application Ontario Gas Prices to check the local area and save myself some extra cash. Knowledge is power.

No doubt the face of the Canadian Supermarket will change over the coming years, but will it be Super?




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  1. Very interesting analysis of the supermarket evolution. I’m surprised though that Canada lags behind in online shopping when it comes to delivering the goods. It’s a big country and I’d have thought the pace of development in these areas would be comparable to that of USA.

  2. Nice article. I think the retailing landscape has gotten a lot more competitive in the last 10 years. But lower prices also mean less services. And who would’ve thought online shopping would’ve taken off? I’m seeing less people in the malls than I remember as a kid and not only that, less with shopping bags, meaning many are simply browsing. Companies are just trying to do whatever they can to get a competitive edge, throwing big dollars at celebrities for endorsements and yes, sometimes that means borrowing ideas from others. I remember I went to Italy about 15 years ago and then 6 years ago and saw a big change in their stores as well. Before you went to a grocery store in Italy to buy food or you went to a drug store and bought medicine. They were highly specialized. My cousins were always wowed when they came here and saw that our drugstores had everything. But last time I went there, it seems they’re started to do that too. It’s certainly changed everywhere. now ships groceries. Nuts! Many retailers are now just trying to do everything and be everywhere at the same time to entice buyers.

  3. great article! I love the pc plus program! especially since i prefer to only shop at zehrs or rcss due to their wider range of organic produce and free from meat. So this program for me is just a bonus! I hope that more stores catch onto this! 🙂

    1. Thanks, yes there are small scale delivery services so I have found out from information supplied by the fans. There is also one larger set up called Grocery Gateway that I had no idea even existed. I’m guessing one of the large retailers will eventually run an online grocery service, but the geographical coverage will probably be deciding factor of who gets it and who doesn’t.

    1. Hey Clarisse, your shopping habits sound like mine. I prefer to actually see what I’m buying. As for the delivery service, there’s always extra to pay when convenience is involved.

  4. I really like the targeted coupons. I guess is is sort of big brotherish, but if it saves money, I really could care less if the store tracks what I buy. I had no idea all that stuff was around Europe before North America. I always picture European grocery stores as quaint and more mom and pop style.

    1. Hi Kim, the giant that is Tesco’s is one of the main rivals of Walmart. It’s a juggernaut that owns an unbelievable amount of assets and land. I’m afraid the days of separate Green Grocers, Butchers Shop and Bakery have long gone unless you travel into continental Europe. Personally I love the little individual retailers of Spain and Portugal, it’s similar to the days of old.

  5. Just a gentle FYI, however in some areas of Ontario there is on-line grocery shopping and delivery. It has been around for more than 10 years….I assume it’s still in business as I see the website is still active. I first learned of it when I lived in Kitchener where they offered their service. A friend of mine used it, and it worked for her. It’s is called Grocery Gateway. Check it out =)

    1. Thanks Jennifer I was not aware of this service. I see they don’t actually pick your order from a central warehouse but an actual local Longo’s store instead. That’s a great idea because now it removes the warehouse completely out of the equation. Thanks for the tip. Love it.

  6. Very interesting to see the differences between Canadian, UK, and American grocery stores. Many grocery stores here (at least in the larger cities) do offer online and delivery services. Self-scan checkouts are becoming increasingly popular. On one hand, I admit that I like them, but I have noticed that means there are less cashiers. I’m sure it’s a cost-savings to the company. In some places, plastic or paper grocery bags are still free, but in California, they are increasingly becoming banned. You have to bring your own bag or pay 10 cents for a plastic bag. I generally used my own bags anyway so it wasn’t a huge change for me but I know some people grumbled. Mostly because they kept forgetting and ended up buying plastic bags. 🙂

    1. Hey Shannon, thank you for the reply. All comments are always welcome, I love to be informed. I can understand why the UK has such a large home delivery network and it’s because of geographical reasons. I certainly never realised exactly how big North America is until I got here, it’s huge and presents a whole other world of logistical nightmares.

    1. Yes Stefanie, you also have Tesco’s although they had a tough time of it in the US and Aldi supermarkets which are German I think. I’m a particular fan of Aldi. We have also started swapping over to more local retailers. I’m currently trying to find out where I can get local farm eggs, the ones with poo and feathers still stuck to them.

  7. We do have on line shopping and grocery delivery here Mr. CBB. A couple of our smaller grocery chains (Thrifty Foods, recently purchased by Sobey’s, and Quality Foods, entirely BC owned) both offer ordering on their website, and free delivery within a 7 km radius of the store. The service is greatly appreciated by the seniors in our community.

    I was somewhat amused by the new PC Plus Points program because Quality Foods has been doing this for years through a program called My Daily Specials. Seems the big guys are slow to catch on to ideas that little stores offer with regularity. I think it’s because the smaller merchants are more attuned to the needs of their communities.

    1. Thank you for the information Beth, I hadn’t realised there was any delivery service. Not only did you prove me wrong but the wife did too, apparently smaller stores like Foodland do local deliveries as well. Just goes to show that supporting the local store gives you a better service than going to the big boys.
      It sounds like you’ve got a much more community spirited set of retailers out in BC than we have here in Ontario.

  8. I think the copying of things from the old country might be that the company’s see it works there. Mind you there it’s a lot more people for the area whereas Canada tends to be a lot more spread out except in places like the GTA and around other large cities. As the saying goes…nothing succeeds like success!!! I don’t see the online grocery shopping going beyond the cities as it would cost in gas to deliver the product. The grocery stores here take phone orders from a number of the older and less mobile and will deliver in town for a small fee. There is also the Mobility bus to run folks to the stores and back.
    I’ll be looking into the PC points deal to see if No Frills is included in the promo. I have a Sobey’s card and get online offers so I don’t see a big difference there. The coupons on the back of the receipt I have seen before years ago. Loblaws did it many years ago or something very like it. If you bought a box of cereal and some cookies along with everything else,for example, you could find a coupon on the back of the receipt for a different kind of cookies and another kind of cereal. Currently Target does the same thing now with coupons on the back of the bill. Any bets on Walmart trying that too??
    I haven’t paid for a grocery bag in ages as I always have my own bags. I do get the odd one free if I’m getting meat and the cashier bags it so it won’t leak in my bags. I have a stockpile of extra grocery bags to replace the ones I’m using now as the bags wear out over time. We also keep a little change in the truck for parking and I make sure there are a couple of loonies as that is what the new NF takes in their carts in town. Yes, I make sure I get that loonie back when I take the cart back.
    The gas station attached to a grocery store happens in Stratford at the Zehrs, buy gas and get a few cents off the grocery bill. It tends to be one of the cheaper places to get gas in town. I use myself to check the price in Stratford. I also remember reading somewhere that if you get gas first thing in the morning it can be more expensive than later in the day. If the price is going to drop they wait until after the morning rush hour. I have had that happen once when we had a medical appointment first thing in the morning but needed to get gas soon. There wasn’t time going in but on the way home I got gas and it was cheaper then than it had been earlier at the same place. Something I watch for.

    1. Hey Christine, I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who watches the local gas prices. I hadn’t noticed the price change during the day but I do know you get more for your money when the ambient temperature is cold. The gasoline is more dense at colder temperatures and has to be corrected to 15 degrees Celsius at the meter/pump.

  9. I am loving the PC Plus rewards card, but boy does it creep my out a little bit. And apparently I only buy meat at Loblaw’s stores (it’s not my regular store, I just go there for sales).

    The fuel stations linked to grocery stores actually work the opposite way in Atlantic Canada where when we fill up with gas we get money for the grocery store – they are forcing us the other way 🙂

    1. Thanks for the comment Alicia. I’m assuming that once the PC Plus program gathers more and more data then the coupons and/or offers you receive will change. As for the filling station, that’s a new way of doing it. It’s good to be informed about the differing sales/marketing tactics across the country.

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