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Local food favoured, but not if it costs more: survey

A survey backed by Canada’s federal farm lender finds most Canadian consumers are all for buying locally-grown or -produced food, but fewer than half of those would pay more for it.

The survey, run in mid-March for Farm Credit Canada (FCC) using a sample of 2,015 Canadians from a panel convened by pollster Angus Reid, found 95 per cent of respondents agreed buying locally-grown food is “a priority or a preference” but only 43 per cent were willing to pay more for food grown locally.

The same survey found 96 per cent of respondents “indicate a preference for purchasing Canadian products,” but only 41 per cent of those were willing to pay more for them.

“I’m not surprised by the survey results,” FCC’s senior ag economist Jean-Philippe Gervais said in a release Wednesday. “Purchasing decisions are often driven by price.”

Canadians might not realize, Gervais said, that their average household spending on food as a portion of the total household budget has decreased from 19 per cent in the 1960s to 10 per cent in 2009, according to data from Statistics Canada and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The Angus Reid Forum survey drilled deeper, however, to find respondents were more likely to view buying local or buying Canadian at the grocery store — and to pay more to get it — if they have at least visited a farm, or if they have a “personal connection” to agriculture, such as knowing a person who owns or works on a farm or for an agribusiness.

Specifically, 50 per cent of respondents said they considered locally-grown products a priority, were willing to pay more for them and also knew someone in agriculture. That number dropped to 37 per cent for respondents who didn’t know anyone in the ag sector.

The survey also showed 47 per cent considered Canadian products a priority, were willing to pay more for them and also knew someone in agriculture, compared to 35 per cent who didn’t known anyone in agriculture.

Only about 21 per cent of respondents who said locally-grown products or Canadian-grown products were a priority, and were willing to pay more for them, had never visited a farm.

By comparison, about 46 per cent of those who considered locally-grown products a priority, and were willing to pay more for them, had at least visited a farm. About 43 per cent had at least visited a farm, considered Canadian products a priority and were willing to pay more for them.

Geographically, the survey found consumers from Ontario were more likely to state that purchasing locally-grown and Canadian products (46 and 47 per cent, respectively) is a priority and they are willing to pay more for them, compared to consumers across other provinces.

Consumers in Saskatchewan and Manitoba (66 per cent) were more likely than others to state that they like purchasing Canadian products, but are not willing to pay more for them compared to other respondents, FCC said.

Canada-wide, respondents whose annual income was greater than $100,000 were more likely to indicate buying locally-grown products (53 per cent) and Canadian products (49 per cent) is a priority, and that they were willing to pay more.

“I think that it would benefit the industry and our customers if the public knew more about the business of agriculture, and recognized that agriculture is big, dynamic and complex,” FCC CEO Greg Stewart said in the agency’s release. “This industry truly matters to the Canadian economy and to Canadians.”

Consumers in Canada have a “sweet deal,” Stewart said. “We’re fortunate that our farmers and food processors produce safe, high-quality food at some of the lowest prices in the world.”

By the numbers

FCC’s survey on Canadian consumers’ food purchase intentions asked respondents to “select the statement that best described your personal preference when making purchase decisions.”

55 per cent: “I like purchasing Canadian products, but I am not willing to pay more for them.”

52 per cent: “I like purchasing locally-grown products, but I am not willing to pay more for them.”

43 per cent: “Purchasing locally-grown products is a priority for me and I am willing to pay more for them.”

41 per cent: “Purchasing Canadian products is a priority for me and I am willing to pay more for them.”

5 per cent: “Purchasing locally-grown products is not important to me.”

4 per cent: “Purchasing Canadian products is not important to me.”

The survey was conducted online from March 8 to 10, 2011, among a sample of 2,015 Canadians who are Angus Reid Forum panel members. The margin of error on the full base, which measures sampling variability, is plus or minus 2.1 per cent. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding.

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