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Holiday season presents challenges and opportunities for c-stores

News retail studies find Canadians want value and options for their holiday dollars.
Christmas Cookies Wiki Commons
Marek Slusarczyk via Wikimedia Commons

With the Christmas holiday fast approaching, retailers across Canada are preparing for a selling season happening under the cloud of growing economic uncertainty and inflationary pressures.

Still, Canadians are planning on spending holiday gifts and meals this year, if a bit more carefully and with clear plans on where their holiday dollars are going to go.

In its 2023 Holiday Retail Outlook report, Deloitte says that inflation has stung Canadian consumers, so much so that many will focus on finding on-sale items (71%), up from 69% in 2022 and 59% in 2021 and 47% say they plan on visiting multiple stores in order to get the best deal they can.

According to the recent Retail Council of Canada Leger Holiday Shopping Survey 2023, that surveyed 2,500 Canadians across the country, 90% of Canadians plan to shop this holiday season and will likely spend an average of $898, a rise from last year’s $782. Most interesting in the study is that fact that while Canadian may be planning to spend more, how they will spend their money will be increasingly important.

“Even with prevailing financial concerns on Canadians’ minds, the desire to connect with loved ones and shop and share gifts and experiences remains undeterred,” observes Diane J. Brisebois, president and CEO, Retail Council of Canada upon the release of the study. “Retailers across the nation recognize these needs and will be providing Canadians with unique holiday shopping experiences, bolstered by exceptional products and engaging, value-added promotions.”

Because of growing apprehensions around the overall health of the Canadian economy, including inflation and rising living costs, 88% (vs 83% in 2022) of Canadians are turning to proactive holiday shopping tactics, most notably hunting for sales (52%), preparing in advance (41%), and adhering to a precise budget (40%). And while clothing emerges as 2023’s shopping category frontrunner for where holiday shoppers will send their money, according to the survey,—17% of the holiday budget—c-stores should pay particular attention to the fact that 16% say they will look to spend money on food and alcohol.

This spending on food an alcohol lines up with the findings in the newly published Field Agent 2023 Holiday Hosting Guide report that surveyed 3,211 Canadian shoppers about their holiday spending plans. According to the Field Agent study, spending on food will continue to be a major holiday expenditure. While 73% of Canadians surveyed say they will spend their money on fresh fruit and produce for holidays, what should be of interest to c-store operators is that 69% say they will spend money on snacks, 56% on alcoholic beverages and 43 per cent on frozen foods. As one Canadian that is quoted in the report says, what is attracting their holiday foods spending dollars is ready to eat hot meals and sides. Both of those are growing categories in c-store operations, especially those looking to tap into the growing trend of millennial consumers desiring more healthy, ready-made meals options on c-store shelves.

While most will follow spending budgets and meal plans, Field Agent finds that 28% of the Canadian surveyed say they still plan to make some impulse food buys, thereby “allowing brands to use their packaging, location, and price to compete. Brands can also drive purchase through having their products integrated into recipes and reach up to 42% of respondents.”

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