Geographies of grocery shopping in major Canadian cities: evidence from large-scale mobile app data

May 10, 2022 by School of Cities Staff

Flipp logoA recently released paper written by experts Lindsey Smith, Michael Widener, Maggie Ma, and Steven Farber explores grocery shopping traits across Canadian cities in 2020.
Data from over 325,000 Flipp app users show changes in the frequency and variety of stores visited in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Differences in how close to home people shop by neighbourhood income, population density, and transport options are also established which have implications for food environment research. 

The key aspects of the research project were:

  • Spatial and socioeconomic factors have implications for grocery shopping, and consequently diet and health. However, most previous research has relied on arbitrary and generalised measures of the food environment
  • Store visitation data from over 325,000 Flipp app users across eight Canadian cities were used to objectively measure grocery shopping traits throughout 2020
  • Home-to-store distances, monthly frequencies, and the number of unique stores visited by neighbourhoods of varying sociodemographic characteristics were explored
  • We explore home-to-store distances, monthly frequencies, and the number of unique stores visited by neighbourhoods of varying sociodemographic characteristics
  • In April, the frequency and variety of stores visited declined as expected, and rarely returned to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year. People living in lower-income, densely populated, and less car-dependent areas consistently shopped closer to home.
  • By establishing baseline grocery shopping patterns for residents from heterogeneous urban areas, the findings can help inform future studies seeking to characterize access to food retail, and ultimately planning strategies, to improve public dietary health.

 

This study was supported by the School of Cities.