Consumers take to cutting edge to cut grocery bills

If you’re willing to risk a looming “best before” date, groceries may be cheaper with the touch of a finger.

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If you’re willing to risk a looming “best before” date, groceries may be cheaper with the touch of a finger.

It’s a habit for Joseph Pilapil: before visiting Real Canadian Superstore on Sargent Avenue, he searches the app Flashfood.

Maybe he’ll find bread at half-price or fish or chicken. Parent company Loblaw has 17 of its grocery locations in Winnipeg partnered with Toronto-based Flashfood. Items nearing their due date are sold at a discount via the food waste-reduction app.

“If I need bread for the next couple days, even if it’s past the expiry date a little bit… (if) it’s not that bad you can still eat it,” said Pilapil, 32.

“If I need bread for the next couple days, even if it’s past the expiry date a little bit… (if) it’s not that bad you can still eat it.” – Joseph Pilapil

He’ll browse Flashfood and buy products online before taking to the aisles. “Flashfood is great… but you’re limited to what is currently about to go to waste.”

He’ll check off his grocery list in-store and, once the bill is paid, will pick up the discounted goods bought online at customer service.

The sign maker and artist said he’s been using the app for nearly a year. It’s been handy for savings as the cost of food skyrockets, he said.

Grocery prices jumped 8.7 per cent in March, compared to the previous year, according to Statistics Canada.

Pilapil began using Flashfood to combat food waste. His parents, who immigrated from the Philippines, would nag him as a child to finish his plate. “I just hate seeing food being wasted.”

MATT GOERZEN / THE BRANDON SUN FILES
The Flashfood app on an iPhone. The demand for Flashfood has been increasing with inflation, according to Kate Leadbeater, the app’s vice-president of marketing.

The demand for Flashfood has been increasing with inflation, according to Kate Leadbeater, the app’s vice-president of marketing.

“We’ve got a lot of moms and dads in households where you’ve got multiple kids or you’ve got intergenerational living happening and there’s a lot of mouths to feed,” she said.

The Toronto-based company is connected across Canada — more than 500 sites under the Loblaw umbrella are on the app — and into the United States.

The average regular Flashfood shopper saves over $540 annually, Leadbeater said.

Produce boxes are popular, she added: the 2.2 to 4.5-kilogram offerings sell for $5 and contain an assortment of fruits and vegetables nearing shelf-life end.

Some apps to lower your bills

• Flipp: uses your location to showcase relevant flyers and deals. Users can search specific products and save deals to an in-app shopping list.

• Reebee: to browse flyers, search items and build a shopping list.

• Checkout 51: provides cash back on goods being promoted through the app. Users must upload pictures of receipts within the allotted deal time. People can request money back once their account balance reaches $20.

• Foupon: coupon app specifically for use at fast food restaurants.

• Ampli: Users connect debit and credit cards to automatically get cash back when shopping online or in-store at participating brands.

•  Honey: computer application that automatically applies discounts when online shopping.

Since its 2016 inception, Flashfood has diverted more than 15 million kg of food from landfills, Leadbeater said.

Around 16,000 Winnipeggers currently use its app, the company says.

Such diversion is vital, as 40 per cent of waste in Winnipeg’s landfills is organic, according to Lea Coté, Green Action Centre’s compost program co-ordinator.

Trashed food is buried, breaks down without oxygen and releases methane.

“That’s 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas,” Coté said. “Had it broken down with oxygen, it would not have released methane.”

Across Canada, 14 per cent of food waste comes from households, while retail contributes four per cent, she said.

“Grocery stores, a lot of their waste comes from the fact they try to make it appealing,” she said, adding people don’t like seeing “ugly food.”

Coté, too, uses Flashfood.

“Most of the food in the grocery store doesn’t have an expiry date,” she said. “It actually has a best before date, and those are two completely different things.”

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
Lea Coté, the Green Action Centre’s compost program coordinator, with a box of fruit purchased through the flash food app for $5 at The Gateway Superstore.

Best before dates are “best guesses” by manufacturers on how long products will retain maximum freshness and taste, Coté said. Foods are generally fine to eat after such dates pass.

Milk and bread can last about a week past their labelled date, and cooked meat is good another three to four days, Coté said. “Obviously, we also have to use our five senses to see if it’s still OK to eat.”

In the ongoing effort to cut costs and waste some Manitobans, such as Ryan Lampertz, have turned to trading online. Lampertz is among the more than 5,000 users to swap goods on Bunz Trading Zone Winnipeg’s Facebook page.

A quick scroll through the public page elicits offerings of coffee beans, snowboards, headphones and sweaters.

“Most of the food in the grocery store doesn’t have an expiry date… It actually has a best before date, and those are two completely different things.” – Lea Coté

Lampertz has given home-baked bread, loose-leaf tea and a faux fur coat, among other items.

“I traded a hide-a-bed for a high-five,” he said. “I just wanted the hide-a-bed gone.”

The items you can trade on Bunz is nearly limitless, said Lampertz, one of the Facebook page administrators. “Sometimes, people get food that they can’t use or it’s about to expire and they don’t think they’ll use it, so they’ll put it online.”

It’s a community, he said — one that makes items accessible as inflation surges.

“There’s a saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ Well, it also takes a village to survive,” the social worker said.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES
FlashFood app allows buyers to purchase near expired food at reduced prices and pick it up at the fridge near customer service.

As costs soar, digital potential solutions appear. Stephanie Harris, 36, buys groceries and gas after searching for the cheapest options on app Flipp, which showcases flyers for local stores.

“That’s kind of the only way I go about it,” Harris said.

Inflation hit a 6.7 per cent year-over-year increase in March, the biggest spike since January 1991.

gabrielle.piche@freepress.mb.ca

Gabrielle Piché

Gabrielle Piché
Reporter

Gabby is a big fan of people, writing and learning. She graduated from Red River College’s Creative Communications program in the spring of 2020.

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