The Food Retail Environment Study for Health and Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) was a pilot study of the effects of COVID-19 on restaurants, fast food outlets, grocery stores, cafes, bars, pubs, and alcohol retail stores in Ontario, across all types of communities. For a video presentation of the project findings click here. For more information in the project, blogs and additional research visit

28,307 Businesses Mapped

490 Survey Responses

152 Interviews

Further Context on the FRESHER Study:

The Food Retail Environment Study for Health & Economic Resiliency (FRESHER) is a rapid response to the widespread closures of, and modified operating conditions for, many food retail (e.g., grocers and convenience stores) and food hospitality businesses (e.g., restaurants and bars). FRESHER examines the economic and social impacts of COVID-19 in Ontario. The purpose of FRESHER is to identify the struggles and strategies of business owners/operators and employees due to COVID-19 and explore how these contribute to the resiliency of food businesses and food security. FRESHER utilizes mapping, surveys, and interviews to document and examine these
impacts of COVID-19.

FRESHER has documented high closure rates of food hospitality businesses across Ontario. Although most food retailers were spared from permanent closure, negative impacts of COVID-19 were still evident, including economic hardships, diminished personal well-being of both employers and employees, and infrastructure problems. Personal economic strain was a common theme: 50% of surveyed employees reported decreased wages. Additionally, 37% of employees reported feeling some level of pressure to go into work sick during the pandemic. Employees expressed feelings of isolation at work. They also reported experiencing compounded stress levels from having to deal with difficult customers, as well as the personal stressors of facing the pandemic at home.

Despite the documented hardships during the pandemic, participants demonstrated clear evidence of resiliency, at both business and personal levels. Many food retail and food hospitality businesses took advantage of available technology, building their online infrastructure and adapting products to reach personal consumers online. Community and government programs offered relief for many owners and seem to have alleviated some financial uncertainty for businesses and individuals. Communities also found unique ways to push the ‘buy local’ mentality and feelings of solidarity were high, especially in the early months. As trends point to a recovery on the horizon, it will be imperative for those in the industry to identify who and what was most impacted and the key policy strategies to create a more resilient industry.