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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Canadians changing shopping, eating and driving habits as costs rise:poll

Terri Theodore, THE CANADIAN PRESS
VANCOUVER - Canadians are trimming down on their food, lifestyle and travel habits as costs rise, says a new poll.

Three-quarters of the Canadians surveyed said they've noticed the price of food increasing in the last three months, and almost half of respondents said they were already buying cheaper products in place of more expensive items.

It's a phenomena Canadian retailers call "trading down," said Derek Nighbor, the senior vice-president of national affairs at the Retail Council of Canada.

"When you're dealing with consumer confidence, so much of this is psychological," Nighbor said.

He said media stories of Canadian job losses and rising food and oil prices can undermine consumer confidence, even if that consumer isn't badly affected.

"And a few of the byproducts of consumer behaviour you see the trading down phenomenon, more efficient trips or possibly fewer trips to the store, and really focusing on sales and coupons," Nighbor said.

The price of corn is hitting record highs and that's fueled higher prices for everything from beef to breakfast cereal.

Higher fuel prices also impact the cost of getting the food to market.

The survey, conducted by Harris-Decima on behalf of Investors Group, also reported Canadians are looking at trimming down how they eat and shop for food.

Eighty-seven per cent said they would be eating at home more rather than going out for a meal.

Forty-six per cent want to grow their own vegetables and about 40 per cent said they would be eating less meat.

Vacation plans may also be changing.

Forty-four per cent of survey respondents said higher gasoline prices and airline fuel surcharges have forced them to change their vacation travel plans this summer.

Nighbor said the council is concerned about fewer Americans coming to Canada because of the economic downturn and higher price of gasoline in the U.S.

But the council doesn't believe it will be a long-term downtown.

"This is not going to be the early 90's," he said. "It's all relative in the retail sector. We've come through a few strong years of growth and right now we're seeing a bit of an adjustment."

If the survey is correct, vehicle dealerships may start noticing a difference.

Eighty-three per cent of respondents said the next vehicle they purchase or lease will be much more fuel efficient than the current vehicle they drive.

A total of 1,030 Canadians over 18 years old took part in the survey, conducted between June 5 and 9. The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points, 95 times out of 100.

© The Canadian Press, 2008

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