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Holiday socializing 2.0: Eat, drink and be wary



With the constant uncertainty and change that is prominent in a COVID-19 environment, it is vital that we look towards the face of this new reality and consider how we might adapt upcoming fall and winter celebrations.

Undoubtedly, foods and beverages will remain at the centre of these celebrations, particularly during the upcoming treat-focused Halloween 2020 season and into the myriad of winter social occasions. But, how might COVID-19 crisis-inspired habits impact treat choices?

It’s challenging at the moment to forecast too far ahead.

However, barring any dramatic progress, it is likely that far fewer kids will be heading out on the evening of October 31st to gather goodies throughout their neighbourhoods, particularly as public health officials continue to promote necessary social distancing and warn of probable infection resurgences.  

These notifications and warnings have led to a third (34%) of Canadian parents reporting (as seen in the Ipsos Path Forward Study) cautiousness towards permitting their children to participate in group activities of any kind, even after the pandemic restrictions ease.  

Screen Shot 2020-10-19 at 1.42.08 PMNotably, even before our lockdown confinement in mid-March, Ipsos FIVE data had revealed that trick-or-treating activities and consumption rates of seasonal favourites at Halloween were already on the decline in 2019—almost a 10% drop in eating rates from Halloween 2016. 

Given this trend, which has likely accelerated during COVID-19, perhaps there is opportunity to re-invent or modernize Halloween and other holiday rituals.

Online celebrations

More than half of Canadian parents (54%) report that they intend to continue to meet with friends and family virtually even when COVID-19 related closures and restrictions end—Zoom socializing has been met with tremendous positivity.

These virtual sharing events open up opportunities to prepare, decorate and engage with other family and friends within safe distancing protocols, while still enjoying activities, games, crafts and, of course, food.  For instance, in order to elevate the fun factor, individual treat baskets could be assembled and shared for kid (and adult) participants.

Stock up on baking supplies

Although increased baking rates that were front and centre during the early-lockdown days receded somewhat by summer, still more than a third of Canadians (37%) now report that they will continue to bake more often than they did during the pre-pandemic period, motivated by the following benefits:

  1. More time to bake
  2. Baking gives me a sense of accomplishment
  3. I like the taste of home-baked goods
  4. Baking makes me feel comforted
  5. I like the smell of home-baked goods
  6. Fun activity for my children

Given the discovery (or the re-discovery) of the joys of baking, there is a significant opportunity to capitalize on this renewed behaviour by creating Halloween-inspired baking fun through the establishment of programs and promotions that include great-tasting recipes, activities and fun kid-driven preparation and decorating ideas. These same strategies, with the right seasonal twist, can be applied also to the winter holiday season, including Diwali, Christmas and into Valentine’s Day.

Small gatherings to centre on favourite foods

Screen Shot 2020-10-19 at 1.41.49 PMEvening celebrations offer an opportunity to decorate the inside of the house and, in the case of Halloween, for instance, host a ‘dinner in the dark’ celebration with one bubble or circle of family and friends.

Parents can have kids participate in the dinner preparation and ensure that it includes their favourite dishes. C-stores can help by stocking the right products for busy families.


Undoubtedly, given the gravity of the current COVID-19 environment, it is inevitable that Canadians will be forced to re-think the many components, habits and traditions of our holiday rituals. Of course, we might also want to reflect on what parts of the old ways of celebrating did not necessarily work well, and use this as an opportunity to innovate and change.

Our current forced societal limitations have not squashed our unending spirit and collective creativity, just the reverse.  It is the challenges that we face that spark necessary change and often force us to think outside the box.  It is precisely that mindset that both inspires us and keeps us moving forward. 

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.27 PMKathy Perrotta is a vice-president with Ipsos Market Strategy and Understanding, working with the Food & Beverage Group Syndicated Services.  Data sources within this group include, Ipsos FIVE and Foodservice Monitor (FSM). Ipsos FIVE is an ongoing daily tracking of consumption behaviour, attitudes, situational dynamics, health statuses, preparation and shopping habits that influence item choice for more than 20,000 individuals annually across all dayparts, categories/brands and venues. Ipsos FSM is a daily tracking of purchases, habits and motivations at all foodservice segments and at branded operators among more than 36,000 individuals annually. 


Canadians’ quarantine cuisine unveils new habits and opportunities 



The COVID-19 health pandemic, and associated lockdown, has had a profound impact on consumer behaviour.  Locked away in our homes, unable to visit restaurants to grab a coffee or socialize over dinner, we adopted new habits in response to our new circumstances.

Quarantine consumption priorities

Key themes driving Canadians’ homebound choices include a return to the kitchen, with consumers eating together more often while socializing at the table or watching evening Netflix.  With many having more time, this renewed focus on social engagement together has also prompted a host of new behaviours, including more home cooking and baking. The requirement for options that meet sharing, nurturing and mood bolstering needs is also on the rise.

As consumers continue to balance their needs for emotional well-being with physical and metabolic requirements, they are increasingly prioritizing health and wellness.  Calories and fat concerns, which were on the decline in the pre-COVID environment, re-emerge as top priorities, as does sugar. Increasing concerns over intake management re-focus efforts on weight control (perhaps to thwart the much talked about ‘quarantine-15’ weight gain). 

Finally, uncertain economic headwinds will no doubt continue to factor heavily into future consumption choices. While we may continue to stockpile for a variety of reasons, at-home eating will undoubtedly be the benefactor of a financial downturn, even when dining out returns.

Return to traditional eating regime

We skipped fewer meals in April than at any other time during the past five years.  This renewed focus on a traditional meal regime that includes three squares a day, plus snacks, has had a beneficial impact for many food and beverage manufacturers.

Breakfast traditions surface

Shifting choices at breakfast include rising consumption of toast, cereal and fruit, while orange juice and hot tea are also being consumed more often during our first meal of the day.  Consumers, no longer fraught with daily commutes and the pressures of getting kids off to school, are eating breakfast. Early morning eating between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. (-5% vs. Feb 2020) has given way to eating later on both weekdays and weekends.

Coffee consumption declines when compared to February’s pre-confinement drinking rates (-1.3%). A drop in pod consumption contributes to overall coffee softness, perhaps due to at-home occasions that may be better served by brewing a pot. 

Light lunches together

Lunch has regained the dubious honour of being the most skipped meal of the day. However, consumers are increasingly eating together and sharing options more often while at home. Choices are more likely to be a light gap fill than a gut fill, led by cheese, fruit, vegetable dishes, fresh cut vegetables and dips. Eat rates of both soup and salad increase when it comes to eating lunch at home.

Rise of dinner on the grill

Dinner remains the meal most often consumed with others. However, while we eat together more often, we are increasingly consuming our own options (+4% vs. March 2020), as opposed to sharing.  Scratch cooking has increased at dinner when compared to February 2020 habits (+1.7%) and meal kit usage has also increased (+2.7%).

While the stovetop remains the top appliance used at dinner, the barbeque is the fastest rising appliance, with an increase of 3.7% vs. April 2019.  Given our chilly weather across the country in April, we should expect a monstrous grilling season in 2020 to meet summer flavour, convenience and experience needs.

While the ‘lessetarian’ trend (those committed to eating less meat on a weekly basis), continues at pre-COVID rates, meat choices increased in April, led by rising consumption of chicken, beef and pork.

Canadians pave a pathway to the pantry at snack

Overall snacking has increased on a monthly basis, led by strong growth at both afternoon and evening occasions.  

Food choices at snack are a mix of healthy and indulgent options.  Health needs continue to dominate early day preferences, while more indulgent or treat-oriented options drive our evening choices.  Afternoon snack, the largest snacking daypart, remains the battleground daypart, where neither health nor indulgence trumps options consumed. Fresh fruit, cheese, chocolate, potato chips and cookies top our daily snack food choices. 

The fastest rising needs driving home snacking choices include options that relieve boredom and stress, while supporting the need to graze and treat oneself.  Nostalgia is also a rising driver, which has contributed to the rekindling of relationships with storied brands that provide cheer and happiness.

The increased beverage choice at snack more often includes carbonated soft drinks, hot tea, sparkling water and a host of alcoholic beverages, led by beer and wine.

As consumers prioritize eating and drinking as rituals that define our homebound routines, needs and habits will likely continue to evolve, particularly as we normalize our behaviours with the recognition that we may be at home for some time to come.

With change continuing to abound around us, it will be critical to continue to evaluate consumption habits to determine which shifts will actually stick in our new normal environment. 

Originally published in the July/August issue of Convenience Store News Canada.

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Health and safety as important as customer service for shoppers

Screen Shot 2020-06-16 at 11.48.52 AMHealth and safety protocols are the new standard for businesses, as provinces and municipalities begin to relax COVID-19 restrictions.

According to a new study conducted by Ipsos, three in five Canadians now rate health and safety equally important as good customer service. Canadians are looking for companies to step up when it comes to ensuring health and safety measures are in place.

“This new study brings to light the shifting expectations of Canadians as our world re-opens.”  The stakes are high for getting this right for companies with:

  • Eight in 10 (82%) Canadians considering health & safety measures to be the most important factor when considering returning to a retailer
  • Four in five Canadians indicating they will delay returning to shopping once restrictions are lifted
  • 64% of Canadians stating they will stop or temporarily stop shopping at a location that doesn’t take health and safety seriously.

The study also reveals generational differences, with boomers being the most likely to stop shopping at a location (71%), while millennials (58%) and Gen Z (50%) are less likely to change behaviour based on health and safety concerns.

Regionally, Albertans are most likely to feel comfortable returning to locations once restrictions are lifted, however this still only represents one in three (33%), while those in Quebec (14%) and Atlantic Canada (14%) are least likely to feel comfortable returning to reopened locations.

In turn, men (20%) are slightly more likely than women (15%) to share this sentiment.

Key takeaways:

  • There is a high potential for short-term switching behaviours, as well as long-term loyalty opportunities.
  • Companies must adapt and change their operational standards to attract consumers back to their locations as COVID-19 restrictions are loosened.
  • Customer expectations are high, and they are changing.

For retailers, there is great value in communicating efforts, both in store and on social media, as one in four consumers (28%) do not trust any industries for their cleanliness and safety protocols. While Canadians recognize that they must also play a role in adhering to health and safety guidelines, 43% feel they are putting in a greater effort than companies to do so. There is an opportunity for companies to do better and match that effort, with 69% Canadians feeling companies were not exerting the greatest effort to keep customers healthy and safe.

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Micro-markets, major potential

Burgeoning concept combines digital technologies with offline shopping experiences

Screen Shot 2020-03-16 at 2.29.02 PMLooking at competitive dynamics within the food and beverage retailing marketplace, competition is steep.  As the lines of competitive differentiation continue to blur between channels, retailers look for ways to amplify consumers’ experiences both in-store and online, while being mindful of contemporary values that are increasingly shaping individuals’ food and beverage choices.

From the prioritization of fresh (e.g. increased vegetable consumption) to the demand for high quality less-processed solution-oriented options and to the quest for globally inspired cuisines, consumers are on a journey of discovery. It is both challenging and changing food retailing as we know it.

At the centre of this change is technology.

Just as retailers and restaurants have increasingly become tech companies with digitized shopping and daily delivery services, tech companies are also becoming food companies.

Nowhere is that concept more apparent that through the lens of the relatively new concept of micro-markets.

Micro-markets are a form of unattended retail outlets. Most often they are small square footage bricks and mortar stores or vending services that resemble a foodservice/grocery store hybrid model.  Due to their relatively small size, they can be strategically located in high-traffic areas, such as office building concourses, airports or university campuses. They typically do not have on-site personnel to manage or oversee operations and often include fully digitized electronic kiosks to promote easy and speedy customer checkout. 

While micro-markets may be viewed as handy grab-and-go concepts, their true value proposition lies in the opportunity to weave together digital technologies with offline shopping experiences, without the inconvenience of expending time and effort traversing store aisles seeking one- meal solutions or by waiting in line to pay.

It is vitally important for online retailers to gain a foothold in physical store retailing, given that the majority of food dollars, whether at retail or in foodservice, is still spent in bricks and mortar locations.

Ipsos’ FSM (Foodservice Monitor) tracking study reports that micro-markets in Canada, while still dominated by vending machines, accounts for as much as 3% of foodservice traffic.  While micro-markets’ share has increased in year-over-year tracking, dominated by growth in Ontario, this channel remains a relatively unknown player.  

However, at the heart of micro-market expansion in North America is Amazon Go, which is reportedly set to open 3,000 new locations by 2021.  The branding power and marketing clout of this behemoth could shine an entirely new light on this channel, particularly if Amazon includes highly urbanized Canadian locations in their expansion plans.

Current Canadian micro-market concepts most prominently include Longo’s Pronto Eats, which is a strategically placed small-square footage cashless grocery experience in downtown Toronto, with more locations planned in coming years.  It would be hard to imagine that there are not a number of other retailers or tech companies eyeing this new concept, particularly given their reportedly high margin targets.

Beyond the opportunity for profiting from this concept is also the opportunity to connect younger consumers to a convenience-oriented fully digitized food shopping experience. 

With a focus on locally-sourced fresh produce, daily prepared ready-to-eat options and easy-prep solutions, such as meal kits, the technology enabling the micro-market concept provides the shopper a sense of control to hand-pick options that meet personal taste preferences, specific dietary needs and satisfy rising sustainability requirements.  It could also facilitate blockchain-like technology that allows shoppers to instantaneously evaluate the product route to market and determine whether it aligns with their sustainability values.  

Given the evolving edible ethics criteria increasingly shaping young consumers’ decisions, food and beverage brands may have a unique opportunity to deliver messages of personal and social benefits in a less cluttered environment.

Ipsos’ research reports that almost three-quarters (73%) of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 agree that a product’s environmental impact strongly or somewhat influences their decision to consume the product, with a similar proportion of them reporting that sustainable packaging plays an important role in their decision-making.

With a growing requirement for augmented experiences that mash digital technologies with in-store engagement, we need to closely monitor the emerging channel of micro-markets.

Kathy Perrotta is a vice-president with Ipsos Market Strategy and Understanding, working with the Food & Beverage Group Syndicated Services.  Data sources within this group include, Ipsos FIVE and Foodservice Monitor (FSM). Ipsos FIVE is an ongoing daily tracking of consumption behaviour, attitudes, situational dynamics, health statuses, preparation and shopping habits that influence item choice for more than 20,000 individuals annually across all dayparts, categories/brands and venues. Ipsos FSM is a daily tracking of purchases, habits and motivations at all foodservice segments and at branded operators among more than 36,000 individuals annually. 


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Food for thought: A Q&A with Kathy Perrotta of Ipsos Canada

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.27 PMKathy Perrotta is vice-president at Ipsos Canada and leads the company’s FIVE Food and Beverage tracking service, which examines the behaviour, attitudes and motivations of 20,000 Canadian consumers. Research shows that busy lifestyles, long daily work commutes and hyper-connectivity are influencing daily food and beverage choices. During the recent Star Women in Convenience Awards Event, Perrotta delivered a keynote outlining this evolution. She also spoke with Convenience Store News Canada’s Quick Bites columnist and foodservice insights professional Darren Climans about how the convenience and gas channel performs against these drivers to establish a framework for growth and future success.   


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.50.24 PMDC: What are the key socio-economic and macro trends shaping consumers’ current consumption choices? 

 Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.46 PMKP: We’re definitely in a period of flux in terms of the Canadians’ food and beverage choices. Compared to even five years ago, when we started the FIVE Food and Beverage tracking service, the changes are significant. The biggest single factor is the shift in Canadian demographics, which includes an aging population, shrinking household sizes, urbanization, growth in representation of specific minority groups, and the rising influence of the aging millennial cohort.

These are manifested in the so-called trends that we see at the consumer level. Increased attention given to health and wellness is creating new food priorities. It is a function of both aging boomers and better-informed younger consumers. Similarly, consumers’ growing focus on convenience and personal/customized food and beverage solutions is another example of a trend that is being driven by a number of factors across demographic groups.


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.50.24 PMDC: How has technology been a driver of change for consumers?


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.46 PMKP: The false promise of technology was that it was supposed to save us time. While the advent of technology and social media in our everyday lives certainly provides a plethora of benefits, it also makes us mindfully aware of and contributes actively to the reality of daily time constraints.  Bottom line is that we have become very time challenged.

As a result, time is, in many ways, the new currency. This isn’t going away—it will continue to be the focus of retailers, manufacturers and foodservice operators alike. 


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.50.24 PMDC: What are some examples of how these changes are being expressed in Canadians’ daily food and beverage choices?

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.46 PMKP: The long-term trend over the last half-century has been a slow movement of consumer eating occasions from at-home to away-from-home options. The data shows that this gradual shift continues to express itself in the decisions of younger consumers.

The rise of ‘snacking culture’ and its prominence in our daily routines has ultimately reformed the traditional meal regime, which is now simpler, with fewer components than in the past, consumed alone and requires less time to prepare.

This dovetails with trending in HMR (home meal replacement), meal kits and home delivery. Though still very small, our FIVE data shows increases in sourcing from both HMR and home delivery services to meet convenience-oriented needs. The emergence of meal kits is driven by more than convenience. It helps consumers satisfy their need for fresh, less processed foods while enjoying ‘no fail’ culinary exploration.


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.50.24 PMDC: You say in your keynote that ‘Canadians want convenience without compromise’—what are the recommendations that you have for the convenience and gas channel to build a framework for growth and future success? 

Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.46 PMKP: There’s no doubt that overall growth and future success in retailing will be fueled by convenience. That’s a good foundational fit for the C&G channel to emerge as a food-forward destination. But consumers’ ideas of what convenience means have evolved and matured. With time being the new retailing currency, there are many more options. Consequently, consumers’ desire for quick and easy is increasingly matched by their unwillingness to sacrifice needs for healthy, fresh, less processed, high quality products and unique experiences.


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.50.24 PMDC: Are there any competitors or disruptors on the horizon that C&G operators should keep an eye on?


Screen Shot 2020-01-16 at 3.49.46 PMKP: One emerging concept is the micro-market, which combines the convenience of a vending machine with healthy, daily stocked options more typical of a grocery store or quick-service restaurant. These micro-markets don’t have any staff. They leverage cashier-less vending technologies—automation, firmware and payment systems—with the core elements of convenience retailing.

Micro-markets present a potential disruption threat to all immediate consumption channels given their relatively low-cost set-up; ability to locate in the buildings where people live and work; and high margin—zero labour cost—appeal.  In absolute terms, this segment is still very small but it has grown over the past three years and could evolve to become a future competition to the C&G channel.

This article appeared in the November/December issue of Convenience Store News Canada.