5 Things That Surprised Me About Grocery Shopping In BC After Moving Here From Ontario

I don't drink dairy, but I somehow still miss bagged milk.

Contributing Writer, Vancouver
Safeway receipt. Right: No Frills aisle.

Safeway receipt. Right: No Frills aisle.

This Opinion article is part of a Narcity Media series. The views expressed are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Narcity Media.

My first year in B.C. was eye-opening to say the least. After packing my bags in Toronto and moving to Vancouver, it quickly became apparent that a change in scenery wasn't the only adjustment I'd have to get used to.

For me, one of the most surprising differences between the two cities was found in the grocery stores.

The sheer volume of kombucha at a West Coast Whole Foods is astounding — and that's just the start of it. It's a whole different ball game out here, folks.

While the residents of each city seem to harbour a sort of animosity towards the other, both YYZ and YVR have pros and cons.

Kombucha in a grocery store refrigerator. Kombucha in a grocery store refrigerator. Sierra Riley | Narcity

The grocery stores in Ontario vs. B.C.

There are (sadly) fewer Bulk Barns in Vancouver than in Toronto. Instead, I find myself shopping at Safeway, which — contrary to the comforting atmosphere implied by the name — feels like a hellscape of expensive proportions.

Fortunately for me, there's a No Frills within walking distance (albeit a little farther out) and a corner store nearby selling bulk and produce for way cheaper than any competitors I've found.

While I miss Longo's and Fortinos in Ontario (have I mentioned that I'm Italian?), I personally feel like those stores haven't had the greatest deals lately, anyway.

Grocery prices

Even prior to the inflation that now plagues shoppers across the nation, I was astounded at the price tags lining the grocery aisles in B.C.

Everything felt at least 50 cents more expensive in Vancouver than it did in Toronto — and the totals at the end of my receipts were enough to confirm my hypothesis.

In 2023, Numbeo reports that grocery prices are 3.4% cheaper in Toronto than in Vancouver. Not quite as drastic as I remember it being when I first moved, but it seems that there's data to back up my experience.

Wall of colourful produce.Wall of colourful produce.Sierra Riley | Narcity

Local produce

Farmers markets, a modern-day utopia, are like the happy version of a grocery store: you get to support small businesses, meet your neighbours and pet dogs all while checking off your to-do list.

I'll sometimes spot booths at the public market in my neighbourhood and later notice the same local brands at grocers around Vancouver (locally made ice cream, pickles, vegan cheese, etc.), which means it's way easier to buy ethically during the off-season.

Perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention in Ontario, but this really stands out to me in B.C. — supporting local makers feels very accessible here.

Plastic bags

Ontario only recently banned the manufacturing of harmful, single-use plastic materials back in December 2022. That said, the buggers are still in circulation.

I quickly adapted to the B.C. way (no plastic bags, paper bags at a cost) and now, whenever I go back to Toronto, I feel unsettled by the plastic bags at the check-out counter.

Kawartha Dairy egg nog with bagged milk in the background.Kawartha Dairy egg nog with bagged milk in the background.Sierra Riley | Narcity


It took a minute for me to clock that there isn't any bagged milk in B.C. — I'm president of the cashew milk fan club — but when I did, I had an "old man yells at cloud" moment.

For that split second, it didn't matter to me that plastic bags are way worse for the environment. Bagged milk is nostalgic, kind of like how they used to wrap chocolate bars in foil and paper. I miss it.

After a little while, I got over all that, instead getting grumpy about the cost of my cashew milk and shaking my fist at the fluorescent lights overhead.

I'm now reminded of that famous David Foster Wallace commencement speech.

"[Y]ou have to take your creepy, flimsy, plastic bags of groceries in your cart with the one crazy wheel that pulls maddeningly to the left, all the way out through the crowded, bumpy, littery parking lot," he said.

The point of the speech, of course, was definitely encouraging a way of thinking contrary to what I'm demonstrating (complaining about groceries), but here we are.

Final thoughts

In all, I think grocery stores are a sort of pressure cooker in which innocents are made to fork out cash just to survive. It's like The Hunger Games, but the only weapon in this arena is capitalism — and romaine lettuce.

Whether I'm in Toronto or Vancouver, there's something to huff about. But as a wise man (Zac Efron) once said, "we're all in this together."

Maybe one day, B.C. and Ontario can put their differences aside and recognize that bagged milk is kinda funny and that, yeah, maybe it's time to move on to more sustainable alternatives.

Until then, you can find me couponing and anxiously awaiting the return of farmers-market season.

Sierra Riley
Contributing Writer, Vancouver
Sierra Riley is a Contributing Writer for Narcity Canada and is based in Vancouver.