shopping cart | One to one household


Volume discounts are not suitable for those living alone. “If you don’t need four lemons or six bottles of sauce, you pay full price,” writes our columnist.

Sylvain Charlebois

Sylvain Charlebois
Senior Director, Agri-Food Analytical Sciences Laboratory, Dalhousie University, Special Collaboration

“By living alone, we find that the food sector has not adapted its product offering for people living alone. Statistics Canada gave us an interesting demographic portrait last week, specifically on household composition in Canada.

Posted at 7:30am

We count 4,316,015 single-person households. That’s an increase of almost 9% in five years. In 2016, single-person households became the most popular household type for the first time in Canada’s 150-year history. In fact, 28% of households had only one person.

In 2021 we will reach 29% or almost three out of ten households. Although Canada has the lowest proportion of single-person households in the G7 after the USA, our country is slowly catching up. Overall, 56% of them live in an apartment with less storage space than in an ordinary house.

With the rise in real estate prices over the last few years, there is certainly every indication that this figure will decrease. But Statistics Canada claims the household-to-one ratio is still rising, even since the pandemic began, when prices rose dramatically. The number of single-person households will in all probability continue to increase in the coming years.

A single visit to the grocery store makes us realize that the grocery market does not adapt well to people living alone.

Of course, the ready-to-serve counter offers dishes in single portions, but the prices are on average 40 to 50% higher than the price of the ingredients that would make them up if we had cooked them at home. Despite the extra cost, these products are typically aimed at those living alone, as cooking a single portion is neither motivating nor enjoyable.

For the rest of the store, the finding makes things worse. Bulk discounts (buy more products to save money) are strongly discouraged by singles. These promotions are basically aimed at those who need a lot of food at once. Buying large quantities to save makes sense, but asking to buy three or four units for the price of two or three encourages more waste.

Volume discounts seem popular with Canadians, but this raises questions of fairness and ethics.

One of our recent polls looked at this issue and told us that there is indeed some uneasiness. While 73% of Canadians overall try to take advantage of volume discounts most of the time, 54% believe volume discounts are unfair or even discriminatory to small households or individuals. And 92% of them are single-person households. As many as 47% believe bulk discounts lead to more food waste.

Volume discounts are likely the result of Costco’s strong introduction into Canada in 1985. To counter the invasion of bulk buying, major brands have since relied on volume discounts. If you don’t need four lemons or six bottles of sauce, you pay full price.

Single people often have a fixed salary that doesn’t adjust to the true cost of living.

Grocery retailers will need to become aware of this demographic and economic reality over the next few years. The sympathy for this clientele will be decisive.

There is still a long way to go before Canada’s food supply reaches acceptable levels in terms of the production of transportable, single-serving food. Markets like Japan and Europe have a clear lead.

This is still a huge opportunity for retailers. Coffee provided us with the perfect example. Single capsule servings now account for 35% of the market in Canada. In addition, the single-serve offer does not stop at singles.

Even gatherings of many people, including family and friends, can change. A host can offer guests multiple customized serving options. One eats lasagna, the other braised or a nice tuna salad. A secondary benefit that translates into better waste management. Individual servings are likely to produce less leftovers and therefore less waste.

The concept of individual portions would lead to an ultra-customizable food economy. The possibilities become endless. Pasta, bread, pies, cereal, salads, wine, dairy products – everything could be sold to one population group. But of course environmentally friendly packaging must also follow.

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