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Food prices: Should you buy fresh or frozen?

As food prices rise amid inflation, experts have weighed in on the cost-effectiveness of buying fresh or frozen food, adding that buying frozen food does not mean the food will lose nutritional value.

While they agree that buying fresh produce rather than the equivalent frozen version doesn’t affect the health of the food, they said shopping for the cheapest between the fresh and frozen sections is your best bet to save money. examined the websites of Canada’s three largest grocery chains, Loblaws, Sobeys and Metro, comparing the costs of several food items. We looked at fresh foods as well as their frozen equivalents and compared prices using store brands such as President’s Choice, No Name, Compliments, Selection and Irresistibles where applicable. Loblaws prices were taken from Toronto (Dupont St. location), Sobeys prices were taken from the Voila delivery service website, and Metro prices were taken from’s My Online Groceries. All prices are per 100 grams and were recorded on March 7.

In most cases, fresh foods cost more per 100 grams than frozen foods. At Loblaws, frozen green beans cost $1.10 per 100 grams, compared to $1.76 per 100 grams for the fresh equivalent. At Sobeys, both fresh and frozen green beans are $1.00 per 100 grams. And at Metro, frozen green beans cost $0.96 per 100 grams, compared to $1.10 per 100 grams for fresh.

Frozen strawberries and blueberries are the same at all three stores at $1.00 per 100 grams, but the price of fresh berries varies dramatically. Fresh blueberries are $2.35 per 100 grams at Sobeys and Metro, while Loblaws offers $1.47 per 100 grams. Fresh strawberries are cheapest at Sobeys and Metro at $1.32 per 100 grams, and $1.76 per 100 grams at Loblaws.

The price of fresh sirloin steak and frozen sirloin burgers are comparable between the three stores, but shoppers can find the cheapest fresh steak option at Metro at $1.52 per 100 grams, while the cheapest frozen burgers when comparing the three stores can be found at Loblaws for $2.10. per 100 grams.


Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analysis Lab, told on Tuesday that if shoppers want to get the most bang for their buck at the grocery store, doing research ahead of time is the best way to go. save food costs.

“There’s no need to actually investigate where the cheapest carrots or the cheapest potatoes are before you hit the freezer aisle, it’s all done for you. So in the fresh section, if you find a really good deal and you bring it home and you freeze some of it, you can’t beat that. It’s a little more work and you have to gather your intelligence to really appreciate how good a deal you’re getting,” he said.

Charlebois says there’s no one-size-fits-all advice she can give to shoppers who want to be smart about their money, but she does have one piece of advice.

“If you have the time and you have the intelligence, go fresh. That way you will save some money. If you don’t have time, if you don’t understand the market very well, and you don’t want to actually spend time freezing everything, just go to the freezer (aisle), everything is done for that. you.”

He says that in general, fresh food prices are more volatile, while frozen food prices are much more stable. However, it’s not always about which option is the cheapest, but which option will save you time and energy in the long run.

“When you go to the grocery store, you’re not just buying calories, you’re buying time. You buy a long time in the freezer aisle compared to fresh. But you can always freeze [your food] of course when it’s fresh. But it’s all done for you in the frozen aisle. So, it’s obvious that people appreciate it,” he explained.

Charlebois says that comparing the price of fresh food to frozen food is a nuanced situation, there is no clear cut option that will always be cheaper or more cost-effective when considering the time required to prepare. He also says that getting the best deals on food depends on where you live and what you have access to.

“Well, of course, if you’re going to the big urban centers, you’ll probably have more choice. But it depends on your grocer, it depends on where you go,” he added.

Charlebois explains that while it’s not easy to find savings by buying frozen or fresh foods at the supermarket, you can save money by wasting less food.

“Food waste is probably the single thing that costs families the most money. So we expect the average family of four in Canada to spend about $16,000 worth of food, and they’re likely to waste more than $2,500 of that amount. And so if you can actually reduce it, you basically absorb the impact of inflation within two years,” he explained.

By freezing food yourself or buying frozen food, you’ll have an easier time managing your household inventory and therefore waste less, according to Charlebois.

“I think a lot of people still see frozen as a no-go category, they shouldn’t go there unless they have to. But, as I said, I think the quality has improved immensely over the last 20 years.”

He acknowledged a trend during the COVID-19 pandemic where people were shopping for freezers, either expecting to buy more frozen food or with the intention of buying large quantities of fresh food to freeze some to eat another time.

“I mean, you can freeze basically anything,” Charlebois said. “It’s when you freeze it yourself that you make some compromises, certainly in terms of flavor and taste. But there’s always the possibility that you can keep food much longer if you definitely have a refrigerator.”


Dr. Michaela DeVries-Abboud, associate professor of kinesiology and health sciences at the University of Waterloo, says that despite the difference in flavor between frozen fruits and vegetables, there is virtually no difference in nutritional value between fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

“One of the reasons why people may perceive those types of frozen fruits and vegetables to be less healthy than fresh fruits and vegetables may be because sometimes the taste is a little different,” added Devries-Abboud.

Dr. Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, says there seems to be a misconception about frozen foods and being unhealthy.

“I don’t think there’s a difference,” Tarasuk said. “I don’t think it’s a question of whether the food is frozen or not, I think … it would depend on what it is and how it’s prepared. But what matters is not the physical act of freezing something, but what you choose to eat. And do you know if it’s something that has too much sodium, sugar or fat? Those kinds of things are important health-wise, not whether it’s frozen or not.”

Tarasuk says the food industry uses sophisticated technology to quickly freeze food and keep it fresh. He says it’s reasonable to assume that frozen foods like vegetables have nutrient concentrations similar to fresh foods.

Devries-Aboud says foods are frozen to try to capture the best flavor and nutritional value possible and preserve it longer to prevent spoilage.

Using corn niblets as an example, Tarasuk says you can buy fresh corn on the cob and cut the corn yourself, but doing so is laborious and time-consuming. Buying a bag of frozen corn will save you time and energy without compromising on the nutritional value of the corn.

“Essentially, what happens is that these vegetables are harvested at the peak of their freshness and then immediately frozen,” agreed Devries-Aboud.

“I mean, you can’t keep things for years, can you? But, if you keep it for a shorter period of time, you know, months to a year, the nutrition is still there. Where you should be concerned is the nutritional value of frozen [food]and to some extent also the canned vegetables and fruits will be; What else will be added?’

Tarasuk and Devries-Aboud both say you’re more likely to see a drop in nutritional value when buying canned corn than frozen corn, because canned goods usually have additives like sugar or sodium to help preserve them.

“It’s really going to depend on what the alternative is and how you do it. But do you know if a prepared meal would be a good choice? Well, again, it’s going to depend entirely on what the food is, and not whether it’s fresh or frozen,” Tarasuk said, adding that when considering a frozen option, look at the ingredients and how it was prepared.

“So, is it fried?” Is it with bread? Has salt been added to it? It has a sugar coating. All those things are very, very important in determining whether it’s a healthy choice or not.”

Tarasuk adds that while it may or may not be the healthiest choice to buy a frozen prepared meal, it can save you time and energy, and maybe even money in some cases.

“I mean, I think part of the attraction people have to frozen, ready-to-eat meals is that they don’t have to do the work of getting all the different ingredients and making the food from scratch,” Tarasuk said.

Devries-Aboud says shoppers should examine the ingredients of “ultra-processed foods,” such as chicken strips on frozen bread, to determine how healthy a choice they are making and weigh it against the time they spend preparing a fresher version. from the same meal.

“That’s when you start to see that there’s a lot more salt, a lot more sugar and saturated fat added basically. And those types of foods are generally healthier if you can make them at home,” he said. “So there’s a difference between cooking a baked chicken at home. One caveat with frozen chicken now is that there is often too much salt added.”

Devries-Aboud says frozen meats sometimes have salt added to help preserve them, while fruits and vegetables are often frozen with no additives and little difference in nutritional quality.

As for the common misconception that frozen aisle food is always unhealthy, it doesn’t have to be, he says.

“I think part of it has to do with the fact that in that frozen food section, you have access to a lot of healthy frozen foods, and then you have access to other frozen foods that aren’t. And sometimes they make frozen grocery store pizza look a lot like the pizza you’d make at home. And so, as a consumer, how do you know what’s going to be healthy frozen foods and what’s going to be unhealthy? And we’re kind of told over and over that frozen foods are less healthy, but we’re really talking about those highly processed foods,” Devries-Aboud said.

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