HALIFAX -- The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way Canadians shop for groceries, according to a new report from Dalhousie University.

“The online buying, based on the numbers that we have now, I don’t think it’s ever going to go away,” explains Sylvain Charlebois, director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University. “I think more and more people will continue to buy food online, regularly, whether it’s through order and pick-up or to get the food delivered.”

The Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with Caddle, surveyed 10,024 Canadians on grocery shopping in May of this year.

Charlebois says the goal was to better understand how the pandemic could impact the grocery experience over time.

Topics included store memberships, store design, local foods, online purchasing and self-checkouts.

Halifax-area resident Tonya Baillie has changed her grocery shopping habits since the pandemic began, these days she relies on her local grocery store in Bayers Lake for curbside pickup.

“I have been using PC Express since April of last year, and I love it,” she says. “I just have to run into Sobeys once in a blue moon for the odd thing Superstore doesn’t offer, or some things I like to pick up myself, such as meat and bread. With this option, I don’t roam the isles and see things to pick up on a whim. I’m saving money by doing it this way.”

In Dartmouth, resident Brian Cooper has been utilizing door delivery services, like Instacart for the last year.

“You can get all your groceries delivered to your house, you can get stuff from Walmart picked up and dropped off to you,” he says. “It is really convenient and we’ll probably keep doing it afterwards once the lockdown is over, it’s really easy.”

Sylvain Charlebois says store loyalty programs, such as Airmiles or PC Points are critical going forward, for both retailers and consumers.

He says the report revealed 73.1 per cent of Canadians are likely to be influenced by loyalty programs when purchasing food products.

Charlebois also notes that independent retailers are popular. He says the report shows 60.9 per cent of Canadians want to spend up to 19 per cent of their food budget at independently owned and operated stores.

Venessa Cavicchi Downing co-owns Cavicchi’s Meats in Upper Tantallon, N.S. She says the store has shifted its shopping experience so that customers can still purchase their products, while feeling safe.

“When the landscape of everything changed in the first wave, we had to figure out how we were going to get product to people, so we started doing phone orders and curbside pickup, just outside our takeout window,” she explains. “Then we developed our website, which has been awesome, so people who are able to come to the window, they’re able to phone and do an order with somebody virtually going around the store with them picking things out and now we can do online, so with all three waves we’ve been able to add something to it.”

The store also does door deliveries across various communities on select days in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

“I think that people have changed their behaviors,” she adds. “I think that people are finding it convenient, I think that people are finding it safe and you can, you know, spend more time with family and do things that are important rather than making pit stops and spending time shopping, so I think the majority of people are going to start using that service as a more regular thing.”

The director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University believes, based on the report, change that occurred during the last year is likely to continue for the long-term.

“You can see really in Halifax, you see delivery trucks, delivery cars everywhere,” Charlebois adds. “So you can see that people really enjoy grocery shopping in their pajamas on a Sunday morning.”