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How Covid-19 is Changing the Grocery Shopping Landscape

How Covid-19 is Changing the Grocery Shopping Landscape

On March 23rd, 2020, Canada began the rollout of government mandated closures of non-essential businesses across its provinces and territories in order to help curb the spread of Covid-19. Needless to say, the list of businesses that were allowed to remain open is quite short. Thankfully, in terms of businesses that Canadians interact with on a daily basis, pharmacies, grocery stores, banks and gas stations all made the list.


Things are far from the status quo however, and shoppers are finding themselves engaged in a shopping experience much different than what they were used to before the pandemic. Long lines outside the stores, questions before being allowed entry, and changes to operation hours are among the many new measures being implemented by essential businesses in order to minimize the risk of spread among shoppers and employees.


This is all for good measure and we’re happy to see businesses taking all means possible to continue providing essential services while mitigating the risk to the public. But unsurprisingly, a lot of shoppers still aren’t willing to take the risk and are opting to have their groceries delivered, causing an unprecedented surge in traffic on online grocery platforms. Although second quarter numbers aren’t out yet, a recent survey by Dalhousie University found that as much as 9% of Canadians are getting groceries online for the very first time due to the pandemic.


<p><span><br /> <em>(@wholefoods)</em></span></p> <p> </p>

So what does this mean for the grocery industry as a whole? For one, we are likely to see an uptick in the existing trend towards online grocery even after the pandemic is over, according to a Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy. A major reason why we expect a major and long-lasting shift is because the pandemic could potentially last several more months, with concern among Canadians over the safety of traditional grocery shopping only growing. A switch to online grocery shopping for months on end could allow for the habit to take hold permanently, as shoppers become accustomed to this new normal.


This is good news for chains like Walmart, Whole Foods and Costco who have long been in the online grocery space, and who will benefit from the increased popularity of their established platforms and customer base. This is good news for consumers as well, since the growth in the online delivery market will surely result in more diversity of services and refined platforms competing for their business. In Montreal, grocers offering delivery, from national chains to independent stores, are even getting overwhelmed with new orders, with mild disruptions in services for now but which should be alleviated once the system adapts to the new demand. However long this pandemic may last, we are certainly seeing yet another industry make big moves towards online platforms as more and more people opt to shop from the safety of their homes.


Changes in the business landscape during times of crisis aren’t a new phenomenon by any stretch. In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis we saw the epic rise of entirely new businesses like Groupon, whose business model was perfect for attracting cash-strapped shoppers during the economic downturn. We could be seeing the start of something similar here in the grocery industry, as the psychological impact of the coronavirus once the dust is settled could cause disruptions in purchasing habits in the long-term, and prompt a major shift in favor of online grocery shopping.



But as with all things, only time will tell. Right now, there is only speculation on the lasting effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on our shopping habits. The course of the virus is still in its early stages but the psychological and economic impact is already being felt by all Canadians. Which businesses will rise from the ashes ahead remains to be seen.



By Joshua Jung

Artwork by Noah Jung (@noahjungart)

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