Shake-up in Aisle 21: Disruption, Change and Opportunity in Ontario’s Grocery Sector

Exploring trends driving the evolution of the food retail sector — from the rise of data and e-commerce to changing consumer habits — and their impact on grocery workers and employers
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Diana Rivera
Senior Economist
Josephine Tsui
Collaborator
Kimberly Bowman
Senior Projects Manager
Annalise Huynh
Policy Analyst + Designer

About this report

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on aspects of food retail that many shoppers may have previously taken for granted. Empty store shelves have prompted a newfound appreciation for the everyday heroes who have kept our local grocery stores stocked and operating. The pandemic has also been a driver of change in the food retail sector, accelerating e-commerce and prompting major shifts in customer behaviour.

Shake-up in Aisle 21: Disruption, change and opportunity in Ontario’s grocery sector kickstarts the Brookfield Institute’s Job Pathways in Food Retail series with insights into the complex and evolving world of Ontario’s food retail sector. The report draws on interviews with insiders in food retail senior management and at store level, as well insights from news reports and industry publications. This report explores nine trends from the rise of data to the skill sets that workers possess to the changing nature of food shopping as a consumer activity. 

By calling attention to trends already underway in this fast-moving sector, we hope to enable both business and policy actors to respond to disruptions and take advantage of new opportunities. In the first section, the report examines technologies and market forces that have brought significant impact. These include the rise in online shopping since the pandemic through to the new analytics capabilities increasingly in use through tools such as loyalty programmes. Trends in market consolidation and supply chain efficiency are also highlighted. 

The second section of the report takes a look at the human side of food retail, from the in-demand skills long seen as assets in grocery workers to the new traits demanded by e-commerce workers. The section also examines changes that have affected the lives of essential workers in this sector, such as the shift in peak shopping hours and the industry’s need for better tools to source top talent. 

A third section of the report looks to the future and points to some of the consequences of disruption as well as areas that are ripe for innovation. By recognizing these forces at work in a sector so integral to our everyday lives, these insights will help both leaders within this sector as well as those who help keep it moving forward on a daily basis adapt for the future. 

Read this report to help you:
  • Recognize the technology and market trends that are having an impact on a sector that affects everyone in Canada.
  • Learn how changes in food retail shopping routines are affecting and can affect workers in this essential workplace.
  • Consider new opportunities for food retail from both a technology and a human resources perspective.
  • Gain a sense of the potential for innovation in this dynamic sector.

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Key findings from the report:

  • The food retail industry can be a powerhouse for innovation, by virtue of its scale and conditions. Evolving expectations and demand will also drive this change. 
  • The food retail industry employs hundreds of thousands of people in Canada, yet has failed to realize some opportunities for understanding and leveraging talent in this workforce. 
  • Customer service skills are critically important and highly sought after by employers, but they remain poorly codified and economically undervalued. 
  • As the sector changes, some workers may face disruption. Workers in this sector may consider transitions, and pathways are needed to help these employees find new ways to make use of their existing skills and talents.

Expert Advisors

Zahra Ebrahim
Zahra Ebrahim
Zahra Ebrahim, Co-Founder, Monumental
Jyldyz Djumalieva
Head, Open Jobs Data team, Creative Economy & Data Analytics, Nesta
Madeleine Gabriel
Head of Inclusive Innovation, Nesta
IIE Work Stream Fellow
Gillian Mason
Principal, Gillian Mason Consultancy
Tyrone James Chua
Tyrone James Chua
Grocery Worker Advisor
Todd Bennet
Grocery Worker Advisor
Khushbu Patel
Khushbu Patel
Grocery Worker Advisor
Ruth Darlington
Ruth Darlington
Grocery Worker Advisor

Our Sponsors and Partners

Community Partners

Diana Rivera
Senior Economist
Josephine Tsui
Collaborator
Kimberly Bowman
Senior Projects Manager
Annalise Huynh
Policy Analyst + Designer

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