My Changing Grocery Habits: Have We Seen the Beginning of the End for Big Food Retailers?

Dad was a firefighter in the RCAF – stationed at St. Hubert.  He effectively worked shift work, so he wasn’t around on every second Saturday.

When he was off we would load into the station wagon and trek out to the Steinburg’s in Greenfield Park to do the monthly shopping for staples.  The alternative free Saturday meant going to the slaughterhouse across the Victoria Bridge, so Dad could load up on meat, and a ubiquitous constant in our household, pepperoni.

That routine was little changed over the ten years we lived in St. Bruno.  Sometimes he would buy a half a beef and we’d do without pepperoni for a while.  But generally, Saturday mornings were for the treks, and we witnessed the growth of the related Miracle Mart and the birth of local enclosed shopping malls.

It’s funny how as circumstances changed, like being posted to CFB North Bay, the general habits of the big Saturday morning “shop” and stocking up essentials were programmed into home life.  Even after leaving home and raising my own family in Sudbury, it was only the opening of Costco that Dad’s choice of destination was different.  It was still every-second-Saturday morning thing even though he had to drive 70 miles to do it.

Raising four teens in a blended household, plus seldom less than two friends, meant that Linda and I adopted Costco as our bi-weekly go to.  It’s funny how when you reverse into a driveway with the back of a pickup filled with boxes of groceries and staples you must go hunting for one teen who wasn’t smart enough to hide to help haul everything into the house, only to turn around and see the missing three and their friends rifling through the “take”.

Our circumstances have changed, but I still have my Dad’s habit of stocking the larder with essentials, usually stuff on sale.  We have a “pantry”, actually our utility room, lined with shelves and our “take”.  We don’t have the giant freezer my parents used to have, but we do have an apartment sized one that I bought Linda for Valentines Day one year (true story, a coincidence, but I was upstaged by a gay Irish mate who brought Linda a bouquet of flowers before going for a beer).

Breaking those ingrained shopping habits has not been a function of change in location or household size for me.  It has more to do with healthy eating and using a food service.

About six months ago when Linda and I were entertaining buying Goodfood ($FOOD) stock, we decided to try out the service.  There is no convenience in food prep with this service – even though all the ingredients are provided except for olive oil, the process of plating a meal is somewhat involved.  We’ve seldom disliked a meal we’ve prepared, it always appears exactly as it does on the recipe card, and we are never at a loss for what we’re making at least four nights a week.  And as a bonus, I’ve gained not only new culinary skills, but have an appreciation for balance and combinations of flavors.

I still trek out to Costco in Etobicoke twice a month.  Yes, I play parking lot shuffle with the best of them, waiting for someone to pull out, clearly signaling my intent and glaring at anyone who deigns to think they’re going to get the spot I’ve “shot-gunned”.  Yes, I am adept at sidestepping all the crazies flitting from one free food sample to another.  And, yes, I love playing mind games with the car that’s creeping me to see where my vehicle is, so they can “shotgun” it, only to have me dart between parked cars to get to where it is.

Our foodservice is costlier than buying all the ingredients separately, but what surprised Linda and me was that we’re spending less on groceries.  I walk by a large Loblaws to and from work every day.  But I seldom go into it.  I am more apt to dash down to the Kitchen Table for fresh fruit and veg if we are eating “out of cycle”.

Even our Costco orders are much smaller than they used to be.  Frankly, staples last longer.  If it wasn’t for the need to take the SUV out once a week to turn it over or to wander through the aisles wide-eyed looking at all the wildly impractical things that I’d like to buy that I will never have room or use for, I’d pay the premium and order through their delivery service.

I was reading an article about Canadian grocers in the Globe and Mail yesterday that I ended posting on social media.  I believe that we have seen the zenith for companies like Loblaws, Metro and Empire (Sobeys) and only if they dramatically redefine who they are and how they market will they avoid the fate of a Sears.

There are many disruptors out there, but ultimately it is us, the consumers, who are undergoing radical change.  And if I’ve broken my Saturday morning “Steinberg’s” habit, then that’s saying something.  But, man, do I miss that pepperoni.

David Chellew and Linda Odnokon have been life partners and in business together for almost 19 years. During that time, they have mellowed into their respective roles and enjoy working with individual investment clients. Dave is a Portfolio Manager and Linda is an Investment Advisor with iAS and work out of the co-work space, Centre for Social Innovation at Queen and Spadina downtown Toronto.

Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IAS. The opinions expressed are based on an analysis and interpretation dating from the type of publication and are subject to change. Furthermore, they do not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any the securities mentioned. For more information about IAS, please consult the official website at www.iasecurities.ca. David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.

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