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When it comes to saving on your food bill, every little bit helps

Consumers have various options when it comes to saving on their food bills.
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Clipping coupons, or shopping for reduced priced foods via an app or in-person; all help with the food budget. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

As food prices continue to increase, consumers are searching for more ways to save money in hopes of extending their food budget.

Typical strategies used to save money include: shopping the weekly grocery sales, taking advantage of coupons, and watching for discounts on food nearing expiration, usually in the dairy or meat aisles. But there are new social enterprises emerging with initiatives aimed at creating solutions to offset the rising cost of food while also addressing the issue of food waste. It’s a case of ‘every little bit helps’.

One such company is Too Good To Go. Launched in eastern Canada in July 2021, Too Good To Go has been operating in Calgary and Edmonton since Spring 2022.

Too Good To Go partners with local food businesses to help unsold product make it out the door, so the retailer isn’t left with unsold product at the end of the day. At the same time, the consumer is able to pick up food at a third of the retail cost. While Too Good To Go takes a percentage of each sale, the premise also helps the consumer save money and works to reduce food waste overall.

Sarah Soteroff, public relations manager of Too Good To Go, says the leftover food is sold as a ‘surprise bag’, meaning the consumer doesn’t know exactly what they are getting, but by the very nature of each business, one will have an idea of what type of food to expect. For example, if it's a pizza restaurant, consumers know they're going to find slices of pizza in the surprise bag.

“In a ‘surprise bag’ there may be anything from prepared food to groceries to baking, depending on the business.” said Soteroff. “There has to be $15 worth of food for $4.99, so a third of the retail cost."

Soteroff says items may be in the ‘surprise bag’ because the design might not be quite right to sell for full price or the food item might have crumbled a bit and won’t sell because it doesn’t look picture perfect. The ‘surprise bag’ might have imperfect fruit or vegetables too--there’s nothing wrong with the food, it’s just that it isn't the most beautiful. 

Consumers may have noticed bins at the large grocery chains featuring imperfect produce at a reduced price too--another way to save on food costs.

For food businesses with tight margins, selling surplus food through the Too Good To Go app is proving to be a benefit.

“We operate coffee and craft donut shops. Our donuts have no preservatives, so have a single day shelf life. We make what we make every morning, and if we don’t sell out, then we have waste, so we thought this could be an interesting approach to solving that problem," said Rob Oppenheim of Hoopla Donuts in Calgary, adding the consumer response has been pretty good so far. “From our point of view, it’s been helpful. It’s nice to know someone will be eating the donuts.”

All transactions for Too Good To Go happen via an app, where consumers create a profile and see which businesses are offering surprise bags that day. Buyers choose, pay and then pick up the bag from the retailer they've chosen. This system does require consumers to be savvy and connected with their mobile devices, unlike an enterprise like Fresh Routes, which offers in-person shopping for reduced-price produce in Calgary.

Though it has had to pull back from offering healthy, affordable food to those with barriers to accessing fresh food in Edmonton, Fresh Routes continues its mission in Calgary. Since it was founded in 2020, the non-profit has served over 50 communities and made over 400 mobile grocery stops yearly. 

See freshroutes.ca for more on the mobile grocery's schedule, with stops at various city neighbourhoods each week.