With grocery prices continuing at higher levels compared to last year, some Canadians say they’ve begun to keep a very close eye on grocery deals to keep their costs down. And one Ottawa Reddit user is helping them do that.

“I feel like there’s a lot of people that are finding themselves directly underwater,” said Donovan Burey, who lives in the St. Laurent area.

Since early October, the 36 year old has been posting a weekly grocery review on Reddit. The reviews compare prices and deals from stores across Ottawa, including Food Basics, FreshCo and the Independent.

Each post has received dozens of comments and hundreds of likes.

“The engagement is really motivating,” said Burey, adding that if he can help readers save money on their grocery bills, they can put the accumulated savings into other priorities or potential investments.

Every morning around 5 a.m., Burey said he checks flyers on Flipp, an app that compiles grocery ads from stores near users’ locations. Over time, Burey said readers have asked for more stores to be included in his reviews.

Donovan Burey checks the price on a tub of yogurt at a local grocery store. Burey has been posting weekly reviews on Reddit comparing food prices across Ottawa stores. [Photo © Isabella Sanchez]

Burey is no stranger to hunting for grocery deals. He grew up with parents who are avid cooks, and as a new homeowner, Burey is careful about his finances. 

Burey said his spending habits have not changed much as prices have gone up, since he only buys on sale. “But I definitely pay a lot more attention to the price increases. … I really do wait until I can see the absolute bottom price.”

According to Statistics Canada, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) for food purchased from stores in October was up 5.4 per cent compared to the same month in 2022.

Mariana Hartmann, a third-year political science student at uOttawa, said her food budget has stayed the same.

“What’s changed is the amount [of food] that you can get within that budget,” she said.

“I know for a fact that in my household, we used to eat a lot more red meat than we can now simply because it’s just unaffordable,” she added.

Hartmann too has been using Flipp to compare prices. She said even if prices weren’t rising, she would still use the app, but less frequently.

Right now, Hartmann said she waits every week to check the app. “I don’t even think about it now, it’s just kind of what I do to go grocery shopping. I know that it wouldn’t be this way if prices hadn’t gone up the way they did.”

Changing habits

In early October, the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University published a survey which asked Canadians how their spending has changed over the last year.

According to the survey, 64.1 per cent of respondents have “substantially altered their grocery habits.”  

Additionally, 86.4 per cent of Canadians now consider themselves more price-conscious.

“People are under tremendous pressure,” said Sylvain Charlebois, director of Agri-Food Analytics Lab. He added that rising housing costs leave less money in people’s pockets to spend on groceries.

But, Charlebois said he expects conditions to improve. “I honestly think that in six months from now, we’re going to be starting to talk about price wars.”

Next year, Charlebois said he expects people to have less money, which will bring prices down and cool inflation. “When markets have cash, prices go up,” he said.

Monthly Average Retail Price on Selected Food Items in September 2023

  • Milk, 2 liters: $5.06
  • White bread, 675 grams: $3.54
  • White rice, 2 kilograms: $9.84
  • Butter, 454 grams: $5.53
  • Ground beef, per kilogram: $11.69
  • Chicken breasts, per kilogram: $15.48
  • Eggs, 1 dozen: $4.48
  • Apples, per kilogram: $4.50
  • Bananas, per kilogram: $1.68
  • Potatoes, per kilogram: $4.99
  • Tomatoes, per kilogram: $4.27
  • Vegetable oil, 3 litres: $10.33

Data from Statistics Canada Food Price Data Hub.

Because of this, Charlebois said Canadian price-consciousness could slow down or revert to normal. He added this change may not happen in 2024 “but probably soon after.”

Burey said he’s not surprised by the survey results.

“There’s some stores that just have naturally higher pricing, because of the nature of the experience they want to offer and people are shopping differently as a result.”

Even if prices go down, Hartmann said her perspective has changed on “how reliant we are on grocery stores and how dangerous that can be when it’s so inaccessible.”

Burey recommends people invest in a chest freezer to store food items in bulk. “Try to buy as much in bulk as possible and share in the scales of those discounts,” he said.

He plans to continue doing his grocery reviews.

“There’s a lot of autonomy and power that comes from just observing prices,” he said. “I feel really, really happy that I can bring that to people.”