Grocery store owner Gilles Robin works on his fruits vegetable display in Levis Que, Canada

Apps help cut food waste and costs in Canada as prices rise

Food nearing their expiration dates can sell at stores for around a third of the price, something that's helped Canadians make the most of their money as they see the prices for essentials go up.

The World

Grocery store owner Gilles Robin works on his fruits vegetable display in Levis Que, Canada, Nov. 28, 2006.

Jacques Boissinot/File/AP

As the grocery buyer for a popular organic foods store in downtown Toronto, one of Sebastian Chourio’s daily duties is to prepare bags of dry goods and produce that are damaged or close to their expiration dates to sell at a discount.

A new app called Too Good To Go is helping stores in Canada to cut on food waste and consumers to save money at the same time.

As he prepared a few bags of vegetables, Chourio pointed out that the contents are no longer in top condition — the potatoes are sprouting, the pepper has black spots and the broccoli is starting to wilt. But he added they’re still perfectly edible and a bargain for cost-conscious consumers, or anyone wanting to help reduce food waste. 

“We try to give people the best, and we have found, you know, people that do wonders with food waste,” he said.

Related: COVID sparks a new 'right to food' movement across the globe

The bags sell for a third of the regular price. One bell pepper, 10 potatoes and a head of broccoli goes for nearly $4. Consumers reserve the items on the app. And Chourio said that most days, the bags fly out of the store.

The app, and others like it, were originally designed to help reduce waste, which Chourio says has become an even bigger problem as food costs rise and consumers leave perishable items on the shelves.

“We feel at least secure that we are treating food with respect, giving a second chance to food, because it's not meant to be thrown away.”

Sebastian Chourio, grocery buyer for organic foods store

“We feel at least secure that we are treating food with respect, giving a second chance to food, because it's not meant to be thrown away,” he said. 

Annekathrin Fiesinger shows how to use the food sharing app 'Too Good To Go' to reduce food waste in Berlin, Germany

Annekathrin Fiesinger shows how to use the food sharing app 'Too Good To Go' to reduce food waste in Berlin, Germany, May 21, 2019.

Credit:

Markus Schreiber/AP/File photo

The Too Good To Go app is available in several countries around the world, but Canada is its fastest growing market.

Canadian food prices rose 7.4% last month, compared to the same time the year before — the highest increase in 30 years. Sylvain Charbonneau, a food economist at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, described the situation as “dire.”

Related: ‘We have the means to support them’: Canada prepares to welcome thousands of Ukrainian refugees

Although food prices are going up everywhere, Charbonneau said that Canadians face some particular challenges. Wages in Canada aren’t rising as fast as they are in the United States, so a lot of Canadian families are falling even further behind.

In addition, Canada has just three major grocery store chains, so Canadians have fewer choices when it comes to buying groceries.

“[Those chains] control the market. They basically sell 85% to 90% of all the food sold in retail in Canada. So, there's not a whole lot of places you can go,” Charbonneau said. 

Lisa Vandepol, a customer service manager from Scarborough, a Toronto suburb, said she downloaded another app called Flashfood when food prices started going up last summer.

Related: 'On the brink': Canada postpones or cancels tens of thousands of medical procedures amid COVID surge

“The inflation is making shopping at top-tier grocery stores not feasible,” she said. 

Grocery stores use Flashfood to sell food close to their expiration dates for half the price. 

Vandepol lives on a single income, owns a car and pays a mortgage. She said that when prices started rising, she gave up meat and started scouring the discount shelves. She saved money, but was never comfortable shopping the bargain bins.

Related: ‘We need a rescue plan’: Hunger in Lebanon surges amid economic crises

“I don't know about anybody else, but I feel really self-conscious about being at the clearance rack and looking at food and considering buying food that is clearly going bad,” she said. “The stuff at Flashfood is an amazing price, and I don't have that self-conscious, you know, the eyes on me saying, 'Oh, she's having money problems.'” 

Vandepol uses the app every day to find specials on meat and produce that are close to their best-before dates and freezes most of them. 

She’s been able to cut her grocery bill in half.

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?