Food and Grocery Options for Newcomers to Canada
Step into the diverse and vibrant culinary scene of Canada.
From navigating the aisles of local grocery stores, understanding loyalty programs, to exploring the world of meal kits and food delivery apps, this guide offers a comprehensive overview for newcomers.
Table of Contents
- What are my food options in Canada?
- What are the popular grocery, super, and department stores in Canada?
- What is price matching?
- How do loyalty saving programs work in Canada?
- Where can I find international food products, smaller grocery retailers, convenience stores, and farmer’s markets in Canada?
- How does online grocery shopping work, and what food delivery services and smartphone apps are available in Canada?
- How does dining and tipping etiquette work in Canada?
- How can one access food banks in Canada
- Contact CanadaVisa and Cohen Immigration Law for Assistance
This guide will lead you through the essential aspects of the Canadian food landscape. You'll gain insight into grocery options, including popular supermarkets, specialty food stores, and convenient corner shops. We'll explore the concept of loyalty programs to help you save money, and give you an idea of where to find international food products. You'll also learn about the etiquette of dining out in Canada, how tipping works, and the different food delivery apps and meal kit services available, and more.
What are my food options in Canada?
As with many countries, food options in Canada can broadly be categorised into two categories: readymade, or do it yourself (DIY), with some options fitting in between both categories.
In terms of readymade meals, you can avail:
- Restaurants (both dining in, and takeout/delivery);
- Microwave meals (available at grocery stores); or
- Ready-made meal kits.
On the other hand, if you prefer to do a little more preparation yourself, you can:
- Buy groceries (online or in-person); or
- Subscribe to DIY meal-kit services.
More detail on each option is included below.
What are the popular grocery, super, and department stores in Canada?
Much like the telecommunications industry in Canada, the grocery industry (encompassing regular everyday household items, including food and drink) in Canada is dominated by three key players: Loblaws, Metro, and Sobeys. These three brands operate their own stores, and a number of subsidiaries throughout Canada, to cater to the Canadian market at different price points. Below is a breakdown of these major brands and their subsidiaries:
- Loblaws: Large grocery stores with locations across Canada.
- In-house brands: President's Choice (PC) and Blue Menu.
- No Frills: Discount grocery chain with basic store design and budget-friendly pricing.
- In-store line: No Name (available at No Frills and other Loblaws-owned stores).
- Fortinos: Upscale grocery stores in the Greater Toronto Area.
- Features: Bakery, wide assortment of products, pharmacy, dry cleaner, dining area.
- FreshMart and L'Intermarche: Locally-owned smaller grocery stores in rural communities.
- Affiliated with Loblaws and sell its in-house brands.
- T&T SuperMarket: Asian food and grocery chain with locations in B.C., Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec.
- Metro: Large grocery store chain with stores in Ontario and Quebec.
- Food Basics: Discount supermarket with locations in Ontario.
- Sobeys: Large format grocery stores located across Canada (except Quebec).
- In-house brands: Compliments and Panache.
- Safeway: Similar to Sobeys in size and product offerings, located in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario.
- FreshCo: Discount grocery stores in Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia.
- IGA: Supermarkets predominantly located in Alberta, with some stores in small communities in B.C., Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.
- Foodland: Stores in Ontario and the Atlantic provinces, serving smaller, rural communities.
Department stores on the other hand cater to much more than just grocery—customers can find clothes, electronics, tents, bikes furniture, and much more. The major department stores in Canada are:
- Costco: Costco offers a vast array of products including groceries, housewares, furnishings, clothes, electronics, toys, and more. Stores are located across Canada and are warehouse-style stores known for budget-friendly prices and bulk size groceries. Furthermore, Costco also offers pharmacy, vision testing, and car services at affordable prices. Access to sufficient storage space and a membership is required to shop at Costco stores with a Gold Star membership costing $60 per year and an Executive membership costing $120 per year (which can be shared by two family members).
- Walmart: Walmart stores are large open-concept stores that sell a wide range of products at affordable prices, including groceries, clothes, pharmacy goods, toys, electronics, household goods, seasonal products, and more. These stores are located across Canada, typically in suburban communities.
- The Bay: The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), also called The Bay, is a department store with locations across Canada. The products offered vary depending on the location, but all stores sell clothing, cosmetics, shoes, accessories, and household goods at prices ranging from reasonable to expensive. Additionally, some locations also sell furniture. The Bay has also incorporated Zellers.
Lastly Superstores are huge one-stop department style stores that are over 80,000 square feet in size. These stores often have a wide variety of merchandise (including groceries) at reduced prices. In Canada the major superstores include:
- Atlantic Superstore: This chain of superstores is operated by Loblaws group, and operates in the maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. It should be noted that some Atlantic Superstore chains do not operate at super stores, instead operating as grocery stores with little to no other merchandise; and
- Real Canadian Superstore: Also operated by Loblaws group, Real Canadian Superstore is a huge chain operating most in Ontario. The stores have an extensive number of features, with some boasting attached pharmacies, photo studios, community rooms, and even gyms.
What is price matching?
In Canada, many grocery, department, and superstore retailers have a price matching policy. This means that if you can show an employee a competitor advertisement for a product or service (that is sold at that store) at a lower price, many companies can match the same price, even if it is above the regular retail price for that item or service.
Sobeys (and their subsidiary Fresh Co.) do offer match pricing, as well as Loblaws, and No Frills. You can always call ahead or do a quick Google search to make sure your selected retailer has a price match policy, and what the terms and conditions are.
How do loyalty saving programs work in Canada?
Like many other countries, retailers in Canada often offer loyalty savings programs, for customers who regularly shop at their stores. Some of these programs are run by the retailers themselves (Sobeys, Loblaws, Metro) while others are run by third-party partners, that can offer one loyalty program to customers for multiple stores and retailers.
Two popular loyalty programs in Canada include:
PC Optimum: PC Optimum is a program that allows you to earn loyalty points by purchasing groceries, gas, or using your credit card. Your points will be personalized for grocery shopping on the app, geared towards your most common purchases. Every 10,000 points are equivalent to a $10 redeeming value. Additionally, the program is free to sign up for, but there is a paid program that provides extra points and incentives. The program is valid at the following retailers:
- No Frills;
- Shoppers Drug Mart;
- Real Canadian Superstore;
- Independent Grocer;
- Joe Fresh;
- Pharma Prix; and
Airmiles: Perhaps the most expansive loyalty program in Canada, Airmiles has a huge network of businesses and retailers that the program works with in order to give customers preferential pricing, money back offers, and gain redeemable points. While the list of partners may be too expansive for the purposes of this page, Airmiles does have exclusive partners with whom customers can gain 3X the number of redeemable points, these are:
- Jean Coutu; and
Where can I find international food products, smaller grocery retailers, convenience stores, and farmer’s markets in Canada?
Due to Canada’s diverse cultural makeup, newcomers will likely be able to find both familiar food and grocery solutions that cater to their tastes, be it products from their own home culture, or a wide variety of others.
International food stores can often be found online with the help of search engines like Google, and its map service (Google Maps). Often just typing in your desired grocery store (for example, “Caribbean grocery near me”) is enough to bring up search results in your area. Additionally, many bigger grocery and department stores, often have an “international” section or aisle, with food products from around the world collected for each of shopping.
In addition to these international grocery stores, it may be beneficial to keep in mind that many residential locations in Canada have their own local convenience stores and farmer’s markets as well.
Convenience stores are usually smaller stores with longer operational hours, that carry basic household items and groceries (usually at a slightly higher cost). These stores usually cater to one specific neighbourhood and are named for their hours and placement. The easiest way to find convenience stores in your area is to use Google Maps. Many of the stores in question will be visible, and users can also perform more specific searches like “convenience stores near me”, to learn more. If none are visible in your area, you can always try to look for plazas or shopping complexes (these are lots where a number of businesses have stores close together (in separate buildings). These plazas often have convenience stores (in addition to grocery, department, and sometimes even superstores as well).
Lastly farmer’s markets are a great option for newcomers who are looking for fresh and novel groceries and goods. Farmer’s markets usually sell very fresh quality goods (often grown by the sellers themselves) often at a higher price point that other stores, due to the quality. Farmer’s Markets can be a little harder to place as they are often set-up for certain times in a week and then taken down afterwards, usually in town centres or meeting places.
It can be useful to do a quick web search for farmer’s markets in your area. This can also link to specific websites that exist solely for helping people find farmer’s markets in their area, and more general websites like TripAdvisor, or Yelp.
How does online grocery shopping work, and what food delivery services and smartphone apps are available in Canada?
There are also a variety of online services, that newcomers can use if they want to have their food or groceries delivered to them.
Grocery orders can be taken from a number of places. Most of the major grocery and retail brands discussed in previous sections also have the provision for online grocery order and delivery, on their websites. In addition, specific third-party services like UberEats (through the grocery section), Instacart, Flipp, Mealboard, and others are accessible through the Google or Apple app stores and can be used to get groceries delivered at a slight extra charge and delivery fee. These third-party services usually offer groceries from most of the major grocery and department store brands mentioned above, giving users both variety and convenience to order.
If newcomers are looking to simply order a meal to their homes, there are a variety of options available. The two dominant players in the meal delivery service are UberEats and DoorDash, though other smaller services are also available (like Fantuan which specifically focuses on Asian food and restaurants). Most restaurants (whether fast food chains or upscale eateries) are signed up to the service, and so newcomers using meal delivery services will have a wide variety of options available to them (though costs can add up when ordering multiple meals through the service).
What meal-kit services are available in Canada?
Lastly, another popular option to get meals delivered is through a meal kit service. These services often either delivery all the raw ingredients for a meal so the customer can prepare it themselves (with recipes and instructions), while others offer the pre-cooked meal in a microwave ready container, which can be consumed minutes after heating. Some popular options here include HelloFresh, FACTOR, Chef’s Plate, (all of which are owned under the HelloFresh umbrella), and Goodfood, though there are others that exist.
How does dining and tipping etiquette work in Canada?
Tipping in Canada follows similar customs to that of the United States. It is customary to leave a tip after eating in restaurants, with a minimum of 18% being the expected rate. For exceptional service, it is common to over-tip. This extends to taxi drivers and delivery drivers as well. Failing to tip or under-tipping is considered extremely rude.
Table manners in Canada are generally informal, with food being seen as an enjoyable, social occasion. However, in Quebec, it is advised to use “Monsieur” or “S’il vous plate” to beckon a waiter, and “Mademoiselle” to beckon a waitress. If invited to a pub or bar, it is expected that each person pays for a round of drinks (though it is not considered rude to confirm this prior, or even at the table). Table manners are Continental, with the fork in the left hand and the knife in the right. It is impolite to eat with an open mouth or talk with a full mouth; one should also not begin eating before the hostess has started and one should never rest their elbows on the table—though as with any country the degree to which these rules are observed depends greatly on social context.
How can one access food banks in Canada?
For those who may be facing difficulty in procuring food or groceries, Canada does also have a system of food banks, which offer food for free for those in need.
There are multiple resources that can be consulted here, including a simple web search for “food banks in my area”. In addition there are specific websites like Food Banks Canada, work to connect Canadians to food banks in their area.
There are also some settlement services that can assist newcomers with food security and accessing services like food banks. It is best to search for these in your area to see what services can be availed. Eligibility for these services depends on the location that the services are being offered in, and who is funding them—however generally settlement services are available for new permanent residents and some temporary residents.
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