Anatomy of Grocery Shopping in Ottawa

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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?

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About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.

13 Comments

  1. I am glad that most supermarkets in Ottawa now charge for plastic bags. I totally support the idea of not wasting resources and using recyclable and reusable bags, but somehow, the USA still needs to realize that.

    • I think a lot of places in the US charge for plastic bags as well, no? I’m split on that. I walk home with my grocery shopping most of the time and I don’t always carry a spare bag with me. Plus we do reuse all plastic bags as garbage bags.

  2. Yup, I know every single one of these stores.

    My family really likes the brioche in T&T Supermarket. They say it tastes the same as the brioche I bring them from France.

    I love, love the chocolate chip President’s Choice cookies. My family is addicted to the peanut butter President’s Choice cookies.

    I also love the kettle chips from Food Basics. And they are so much cheaper than their competitors’ kettle chips!

    I noticed last time I visited that there was some kind of Greek yogurt craze going on and all of a sudden it was stocked in every supermarket. When and how did this start?

    Shoppers Drug Mart shocked my French husband. He’s horrified to see pharmacists dispensing medicine right beside dozens of bags of chips and boxes of chocolates. When my mother-in-law came to Canada with us she and my husband took pictures of the interior of Shoppers to show people back in France what a Canadian pharmacy looks like.

    My family sometimes buys crates of fruit from Nicastro’s. Normally prices are more expensive in there, but the trays of fruit (prickly pairs and perisimmons in particular) really are cheaper and of better quality than the other places. I was there at Christmas and these fruits were even better than what you would find in France.

    • I’m also addicted to T&T bakery and I agree, their brioche and especially the coconut buns taste exactly like the French brioche! It’s funny because Chinese don’t usually do sweet stuff really well (notoriously bad in China, an there is no baking tradition). I know the cookies you are talking about too, an addiction in our family as well 😉 Funny we have similar tastes!

      I didn’t notice the Greek yogourt craze much, I’m not a huge fan of it. However, I’m happy to be able to buy Danone and Yoplait yogourts now, I couldn’t find any good yogourts a few years ago but somehow the choice improved.

      I also shop at Nicastro once in a while for specialty food, I like close to the one in Merivale. However, I find the owner and staff of the store at the Nicastro in the Byward are super rude and have terrible customer service so I avoid that store despite the tempting imported products.

      I don’t get Shoppers either, like your husband! That said, I remember having to buy cigarettes at a similar store in Australia (yep, cigarettes in a pharmacy) back in 2003 so the fact it is selling junk food in Canada doesn’t shock me much 😆

  3. This entry is so useful to me :). We don’t have shoppers in Quebec, but I’m sure ill love it. I love drugstore shopping

  4. There’s also NoFrills, they have quite a number of shops everywhere. The prices are below average, it’s also worth taking a look at their weekly flyer, sometimes there are very good deals. Bags don’t seem to be free anywhere except for WalMart, but I totally agree with Jeruen. They shouldn’t be for free. It’s more a psychological barrier anyways, I don’t think people have to starve because of 5c for a bag.
    It’s funny that they even adjust brand names in Quebec. I first noticed that at a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant that wasn’t a KFC, but a PFK (Poulet Frit Kentucky) instead. What’s next? Roi Burger? 😉

    • When I first came to Canada, I called “Staples” “le magasin Agrafe” in Québec because I thought everything was automatically translated… but I didn’t know the name across the river was “Bureau en gros”! 😆

      I don’t think we have NoFrills in Ottawa, or maybe it is Food Basics here? I’m confused. Same, we don’t have Sobey’s but I did see these stores in other parts of Ontario.

  5. 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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