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Anatomy of Grocery Shopping in Ottawa

Walmart, Two Empty Carts

Wal­mart, Two Empty Carts

I don’t know for you but at home, gro­cery shop­ping is the bar­rel of the Danaids. There is always a key prod­uct missing—it’s like our fridge is swal­low­ing its con­tents when we are not looking.

That or we are actu­ally eat­ing what we are buying—a good thing I guess, since I hate wast­ing food.

We don’t do “meal plans” and we don’t really have a day ded­i­cated to gro­cery shop­ping. We go to the super­mar­ket when­ever we need to. I guess you could argue it’s not a very effi­cient way tackle the chore but this way, we have fresh pro­duce and we rarely miss good deals. Plus we are a five-minute drive to three super­mar­kets… we are unlikely to starve.

We cook pretty much every meal, i.e. we don’t eat frozen meals. The only things we have in the freezer are meat (e.g. chicken breast we froze our­selves) and ice cream. We mostly rely on fresh veg­gies, some pro­teins (meat, fish, tofu, eggs) and fruits. All in all, we don’t eat much processed food.

So, where do we shop in Ottawa?

Loblaws and Real Cana­dian Super­store

Loblaws super­mar­kets (and Real Cana­dian Store, owned by Loblaws) are usu­ally pretty clean and def­i­nitely on the “fancy” side. They have a fish mar­ket, a deli and bak­ery sec­tions and plenty of selec­tion. How­ever, food is pretty expen­sive, espe­cially pro­duce and sta­ple prod­ucts like cans, sauces, drinks, etc.

Good for… We usu­ally go to Loblaws when they have “spe­cials” (items on sale) we like or to buy good meat (roasted chicken) and fish. They also carry fancy imported prod­ucts like French cook­ies, real French gherkins and mus­tard (Maille).

Tips: Bring your own bags, you will get charged for plas­tic bags. President’s Choice, the store’s label, has great prod­ucts that are often cheaper than other brands.

Metro

Metro seems to cater to urban folks too busy to cook. The store typ­i­cally have long open­ing hours (some are open 24/7), con­ve­nient loca­tions and fea­ture a deli, a bak­ery and an exten­sive selec­tion of fresh ready-to-eat meals. While the food looks good, markup is high on most products—convenience has a price.

Good for… Bread, organic prod­ucts, fancy spe­cialty food, catering-like meals.

Tips: Bring your own bags, you will get charged for plas­tic bags. And check the “best by” date on these ready-to-eat meals to make sure they are as fresh as they look.

Food Basics

Food Basic super­mar­kets range from quiet and clean to over­crowded and dirty—it really depends on the neigh­bor­hood. Don’t expect fancy dis­plays and help­ful staff though—the name says it all, it’s “Food Basics”. They carry a large selec­tion of fresh pro­duce, frozen food plus inter­na­tional prod­ucts (again, it depends on the neighborhood—some stores have a wide selec­tion of Indian prod­ucts because there is an Indian com­mu­nity nearby, while other focus on Ara­bic prod­ucts, etc.).

Good for… Pro­duce, sta­ples like rice, semolina, pasta, sauces, cans, soups, dairy, etc.

Tips: Bring your own bags, you will get charged for plas­tic bags but you can use their car­ton boxes for free.

Wal­mart

Wal­mart sells elec­tron­ics, appli­ances, fur­ni­ture, etc. but most stores—if not all—have a large food sec­tion. Some Wal­mart are down­right dirty and messy (Lin­coln Fields, South Keys) while other are great for gro­cery shop­ping (the new Base­line Wal­mart). This is by far the cheap­est super­mar­ket around and it is well worth going for sta­ple prod­ucts and even basic beauty prod­ucts like sham­poo, tooth­paste, etc.

Good for… Pro­duce, sta­ple like rice, semolina, pasta, sauces, cans, soups, dairy, etc. Don’t for­get to check out the “Inter­na­tional Food” aisle for low-price exotic prod­ucts from China, Italy, India, etc.

Tips: Free plas­tic bags, yay! Check the “best by” date reli­giously, espe­cially for yogurts.

Shop­pers Drug Mart

Like Tim Hor­tons, Shop­pers stores seem to be just about every­where in Ottawa. Most stores fea­ture a phar­macy, a beauty and health sec­tions and a small food sec­tion (typ­i­cally dairy, cere­als, sauces, soups and junk food). I used to love Shop­pers because I col­lected Opti­mum Points but the reward pro­gram became less and less inter­est­ing and I found prices are much higher than a few years ago. That said, Shop­pers can have good deals on dairy, eggs and cookies.

Good for… Eggs, dairy, junk food when on special.

Tips: You can always col­lect Opti­mum Points, the cards is free. But it takes a while to get your $10 off. You get charged for plas­tic bags.

T&T Super­mar­ket

T&T Super­mar­ket opened in 2009 in Ottawa and focuses on Asian prod­ucts from China, Japan, Korea, the Philip­pines, etc. It has a bak­ery, a small restau­rant (dim sums, dumplings and other ready-to-eat del­i­ca­cies), a meat and fish sec­tion, a pro­duce sec­tion (with exotic fruits and veg­gies) and even some imported books and trin­kets. Shop­ping at T&T can be quite an adven­ture as you don’t know the prod­ucts at all and some fea­ture badly trans­lated labels!

Good for… Any­thing Asian! Just avoid buy­ing yogurt or reg­u­lar “West­ern” food there because it’s more expen­sive. Check the “best by” dates on prod­ucts and don’t hes­i­tate to sam­ple the food when­ever available—you may enjoy what you are tasting!

Tips: Avoid going on week­ends (over­crowded like in China!) and on major Chi­nese hol­i­days, such as around Chi­nese New Year. Unless you want to fight over bags or rice with old Chi­nese ladies, that is.

How about you? Where do you go for gro­cery shop­ping in Ottawa?

13 comments

  1. For the veg­etable, we get deliv­ered with organic veg­eta­bles by Bryson Farm on Fri­days. I absolutely love this.
    For the rest, we mainly go to Farm Boy (Bri­tan­nia) that has really good selec­tion of not-industrial breads, cheeses and fresh veg­eta­bles and fruits. When we urgently need some­thing, we go to Super­store (Welling­ton) next door. And for “brand” gro­cery (like Col­gate tooth­paste…) we recently selected Wal­mart after your advice. It is indeed less expen­sive.
    Ah, and of course, T&T for Asian gro­cery (and snack­ing!), just like you. I’d like to men­tion the cute lit­tle korean gro­cery on Bank street: Arum Food Mar­ket (and they have a restau­rant, it’s really fam­ily friendly and yummy). Oth­er­wise, there is also
    the chi­nese Kowloon Mar­ket on Som­er­set street.
    Last point, dur­ing the sea­son (may –> octo­ber), it’s really nice to go to farmer’s mar­kets like Park­dale. You can get PLENTY of fruits and veg­eta­bles for the best price ever, and it’s fresh and local.

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