Understanding the supermarket landscape in Toronto



Understanding the supermarket landscape in Toronto
Understanding the Supermarket Landscape in Toronto
Jennifer Levy , Olanna White Barnett (presenting author), Andi Camden , Leia Minaker , Loren Vanderlinden , Kate Bassil , Kate Mulligan , Monica Campbell
Research suggests that the supermarket environment
is a determinant of food choices and therefore of
consumer health. Supermarkets are considered
healthy food outlets, but they are also a source for
unhealthy foods. A better understanding of this
sector will inform exploration of possible partnerships
and innovative and effective interventions to help
Torontonians make healthier food purchases.
To better understand:
1. The supermarket business and policy environment
2. Local retailer and consumer trends
3. Availability, price, quality, prominence and promotion of
healthier and less healthy foods in Toronto supermarkets
4. The feasibility of health behaviour interventions in
1. An analysis of existing databases with information about supermarkets to characterize the state
of the landscape in Toronto (e.g. Ryerson Centre for the Study of Commercial Activity database)
2. A scan of supermarket and industry publications, and interviews with supermarket executives
3. A structured review of supermarket health behaviour interventions
4. An audit of nutrition environment indicators by applying a modified Nutrition Environment
Measures Survey in Stores (NEMS-S) approach
5. An online survey of residents about supermarket food shopping habits and behaviours
Key Findings to Date
• Toronto residents have good access to supermarkets. The city supports 242 mid to large
scale supermarkets. The majority (62%) belong to one of three major chains. The remainder
are independent supermarkets, small chain supermarkets, ethnic stores and hypermarkets.
• Energy-dense snack foods occupy just as much shelf space as fruits and vegetables.
• While fruits and vegetables are cheaper in low income areas, so are pop and chips.
• Strong competition amongst retailers and narrow profit margins result in heavy use of
marketing to promote both healthy and unhealthy foods.
• Sugary cereals, candy and pop at checkout are highly visible to children in grocery stores.
• Most supermarket chains have nutrition strategies, and are marketing “healthy” eating,
driven by the need to attract and retain customers.
• Supermarkets can be effective sites for public health interventions that promote healthier
food purchases, especially multifaceted approaches (e.g. nudges, incentives, shelf displays).
Preliminary results show many possible opportunities for
strategies and interventions to enhance Toronto’s supermarket
environment including:
1. Potential to collaborate with grocers to enhance existing and
implement new interventions.
2. Developing social marketing and public education campaigns to help
create “savvy” grocery shoppers.
3. To further advance advocacy efforts for a standardized objective
nutrition rating system.
4. To conduct further research to explore the influence of interventions
on shopping habits in Toronto.
Toronto Public Health, 277 Victoria St., Toronto, ON
Propel Centre for Population Health Impact, University of Waterloo, 200 University Avenue West,
Waterloo, ON
This project was partially funded by the Healthy Communities Fund