Eating Patterns in Canada

New report explores how food and beverage consumption is changing

Eating Patterns in Canada (EPIC) provides an in-depth look at what’s truly important to the Canadian consumer when eating in and out of home

Press release

The NPD Group and Nielsen have joined together to provide an unparalleled view of Canadians’ “share of stomach.” Eating Patterns in Canada (EPIC) is the definitive source for detailed information on eating and drinking habits in the country. It provides a unique look at the motivations behind Canadians’ choices about what they eat and drink.

“As the retail landscape continues to evolve, being aware of the trends and patterns will assist retailers and manufacturers in building the right plans to better serve consumers,” says Jenny Mabley, vice president consumer and shopper, Nielsen. “EPIC will provide clients an unparalleled depth of insight and actionable intelligence to make informed decisions and capitalize on market opportunities and succeed across Canada.”

This year’s edition goes even deeper to explore what matters to Canadians when they prepare a meal, reach for a snack, and eat out of home. It examines in-home and away-from-home food and beverage consumption and addresses the impacts of health, nutrition, demographic shifts, and economic factors on consumer behaviour related to foods and beverages.

“The last decade has seen a significant shift in the way that Canadians spend their money. Trips to retail stores are down, Canadians are dining out less frequently, and price is becoming a larger part of the value equation,” says Robert Carter, Executive Director of Foodservice, The NPD Group. “That’s why we are thrilled to announce the launch of Eating Patterns in Canada, which is the only definitive source for detailed information on eating and drinking habits in the country. EPIC will provide a unique look at the motivations behind what Canadians eat and drink. It will give manufacturers, retailers, and foodservice operators a distinct advantage when it comes to understanding what truly matters to hungry Canadians.”

What’s new in food and beverage consumption?

Food consumption continues to remain largely an in-home behaviour, while work and school motivate out-of-home consumption, especially during lunch. By a margin of four to one, most meals are sourced at home. That said, on any given day, just under half of Canadians source at least one meal away from home.

When it comes to eating outside the home, traffic is moving to lower priced segments such as the Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) segment, which has added to its dominant share of traffic at the expense of the Full Service Restaurant (FSR) segment. In terms of share of traffic, Breakfast is growing steadily year over year while snacking dayparts are all declining. Meanwhile, lunch has risen in recent years as supper diminished.

However, both Foodservice and FMCG continue to remain challenged with flat growth. As the graph below illustrates, BC and Ontario drive FMCG growth, while Atlantic and Man/Sask are the key growth drivers for foodservice.

Eating Patterns in Canada

Digital influence is growing

Just as it has entered every aspect of our daily lives, technology is entering into the restaurant and grocery universe and changing the way Canadians shop for food and dine out. The use of digital technology to place orders has been growing rapidly for several years and now represents two per cent of all foodservice and FMCG orders.

According to the EPIC Report, digital has also become a significant visit motivator:

  • Nine per cent of consumers are influenced by a social media platform before making restaurant choice. Facebook, YouTube and Instagram are the most popular platforms driving this influence.
  • 14 per cent of consumers are influenced by some digital means before shopping trip. These include digital coupons, emails, apps or online flyers.

As one might expect, a clear generational gap exists in the use of digital ordering platforms, as the younger generations exert their influence in this space, perhaps more than any other. For example, the report suggests that Millennials are four times as likely to search for, or post, an online restaurant review when compared to other generations.

Health and wellness

The report also shows that Canadians want healthy food options and that most Canadians believe healthy eating begins at home (80 per cent believe that foods made at home are healthier than prepared foods).

In a curious coincidence this also happens to be the ratio of meals sourced in-home vs. out-of-home, but also serves to highlight one critical challenge that the foodservice industry faces – the perception that the foods they serve are unhealthy, or at least less healthy than foods prepared at home.

Although Canadians are conscious of healthy choices, when they do decide to eat out, healthy dining tends not to be a motivating factor. Instead, food taste, quality, loyalty, convenience, and value tend to be the key considerations.