Canadians’ use of GLP-1 drugs is reshaping the food industry

Sylvain Charlebois: The use of GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic is surging among CanadiansThe rise of GLP-1 drugs, as exemplified by the widespread usage of medications like Ozempic, is revolutionizing societal attitudes toward health and dietary habits. A new study conducted by Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab and Caddle reveals that between 900,000 and 1.4 million Canadians have incorporated these medications into their daily routine.

This trend mirrors a broader North American movement, with projections indicating that up to 30 million adults in the United States may be using GLP-1 drugs by 2030.

The survey reveals a varied user demographic, with a slight majority of males (11 percent compared to 10 percent for females) and millennials taking the lead at 12 percent. Ontario boasts the highest usage rate in Canada at 13 percent, while Prince Edward Island records the lowest at four percent. A majority of users (79 percent) have been using these drugs for more than three months, indicating a significant dependence on them.

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The primary reasons for usage are managing type 2 diabetes (57.2 percent) and seeking weight loss (27.2 percent), which reflects a complex interplay between health needs and body image goals. The impact on dietary choices is particularly notable, with 45.5 percent of users reporting reduced food intake, especially high-calorie items. The most significant declines are seen in sweet bakery goods, candies, and carbonated soft drinks, suggesting a shift in eating patterns that challenges traditional food industry sectors.

This data paints a picture of a society grappling with the balance between health pursuits and the convenience of quick solutions. The GLP-1 trend is not just a medical story but presents a rich social, economic, and ethical narrative.

The impact of GLP-1 drugs such as Ozempic goes beyond personal health, indicating a transformation in consumer dietary behaviours. With 45.5 percent of users eating less overall and specific declines in indulgent food categories, this shift is reshaping the food landscape. The survey outlines a 30.6 percent decrease in sweet bakery goods consumption, a 30.4 percent decline in candy consumption, and a 29.7 percent drop in packaged cookie consumption among GLP-1 users. Even the consumption of carbonated soft drinks has decreased by 28.8 percent, underscoring a shift towards healthier beverage choices.

However, the impact of GLP-1 drugs extends beyond food consumption to include significant changes in alcohol intake and dining habits. The survey reveals that 19.2 percent of GLP-1 users have reduced their consumption of alcoholic beverages, suggesting a broader trend towards healthier lifestyle choices encompassing both food and drink.

For the restaurant industry, the ramifications are considerable. The data indicates that 21.6 percent of GLP-1 drug users are dining out less frequently, while 16.4 percent are purchasing fewer groceries. This decline in patronage poses challenges for restaurants, particularly those that rely on high-margin items like snacks and fast foods. To adapt, restaurants may need to innovate their menus to include healthier, lower-calorie options that cater to the dietary preferences of GLP-1 users, such as diabetes-friendly or weight-management dishes.

The shift also has broader cultural implications, signalling a move away from traditional comfort foods and indulgences towards a more health-conscious approach to eating.

The long-term effects on food producers and retailers are profound. The decline in demand for sugary snacks and drinks suggests a trend toward healthier products that cater to the dietary needs of GLP-1 drug users. This presents an opportunity for the food and beverage industry to reassess its offerings, align with evolving consumer demand for healthier options, and innovate and foster growth by developing new product lines that appeal to health-conscious consumers.

The GLP-1 drug trend is reshaping the food industry, driving a cultural shift in consumer preferences toward healthier eating habits. This evolution challenges traditional food sectors and opens new avenues for innovation and adaptation in response to changing dietary trends.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

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