Toronto, one of the most diverse cities globally, boasts nearly 50% of its population born outside Canada, as reported by Canada Population.
With a population of more than 2.7 million residents in 2022, it is Canada’s largest city.
The Greater Toronto Area (GTA), which includes surrounding cities, is home to 6.4 million people, accounting for about 18.1% of all Canadians.
Major grocery operators in Toronto
In terms of retail sales, the top five Canadian grocery operators have a strong presence in the Toronto market.
Loblaw Companies Limited holds a 28% market share nationwide, as per a 2022 US Department of Agriculture (USDA) report. In the GTA, Loblaw operates various banners such as Loblaws, No Frills, Fortinos, Freshmart and T&T Supermarket.
Empire Company Limited, with a 20% market share across Canada, operates Sobeys, Safeway, Sobeys Urban Fresh, Foodland and FreshCo in the Toronto region.
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With an 11%t market share, Metro has its Metro and Food Basics banners in Ontario.
These three major companies, along with Costco and Walmart, make up nearly 76% of grocery retailers nationwide.
Diverse retail landscape and population shifts
Toronto’s retail scene is more diverse compared to other parts of Canada, with independent, smaller-format and speciality retailers coexisting with the dominant players.
However, recent years have seen major players such as Loblaw and Empire acquire key independent retailers such as Farm Boy and Longo’s.
Between July 2020 and July 2021, Toronto experienced a population decline, with a 0.6% decrease within a year. This marked the first population loss in two decades as people moved away from the GTA to other regions.
Although the move to the suburbs has slowed due to the end of pandemic lockdowns and higher mortgage rates, the population remains lower, leading major players to close some stores in recent years.
Price fluctuations and grocery competition
Despite Toronto’s high cost of living, intense retail competition in the GTA helps keep grocery prices relatively lower compared to other parts of the country. However, prices have been on the rise, catching the attention of Toronto shoppers.
Statistics Canada reported a year-over-year inflation rate of 5.2% in March 2023, slightly down from 6.3% in December. Food prices, including groceries and food services, have been continuously increasing for more than a year.
This trend is evident in fresh vegetable pricing, where inflation worsened supply issues caused mainly by weather disruptions.
Hutch Morton, senior vice-president at JE Russell Produce Limited in Toronto, explains that challenges faced by leafy greens’ transition from Salinas to the desert contributed to inflated prices for imperfect products, creating market distortions.
Inflationary pressures throughout the supply chain further strained these conditions. However, the challenges also opened doors for new shippers to enter the business, resulting in positive opportunities.