August 21, 2013

Chinese Food Preferences in the GTA

A review of ‘Immigration and Chinese Food Preferences in the Greater Toronto Area’ by Adekunle, Filson and Sethuratnam (2013), Forthcoming in International Journal of Consumer Studies

             In 2009 field research was conducted in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) by the ethno-cultural vegetable (ECV) project team to better understand the connection between ethnicity and food consumption.  Since then the information collected has been used to write three research papers on each of the three largest ethnic groups in the GTA that compose 46% of the GTA’s overall population (2011) (Statistics Canada, 2013).  The first was on Afro-Caribbeans, ethnic food, and acculturation (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, Cidro, 2011).  The second was on South Asians, ethnic vegetables, and economic development (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2012).  A third is soon to be published on Chinese, with a focus on history of Chinese in Canada and factors that underlie decisions to purchase ECV, including the importance of language to Chinese Canadians.  Even though the research was conducted in the GTA, the information is applicable to many parts of Canada.  This makes the latest article particularly important for understanding consumption patterns of ethnic groups in Canada because Chinese Canadians are the largest non-European ethnic group (Statistics Canada, 2003).

             The following is a summary of the key points in the third paper mentioned above, entitled ‘Immigration and Chinese Food Preferences in the Greater Toronto Area’ (Adekunle, Filson, Sethuratnam, 2013):
             Chinese Canadians have a unique and long history in Canada. Some of the first Chinese immigrants to Canada came in the mid-1800s during the gold rush.  After helping build railways in western Canada and working as general labourers, eventually they created their own services, such as restaurants and laundries.  Chinese immigration increased in the 1960s when immigration policy in Canada shifted to the less discriminatory points system. Now there are increasing numbers of Chinese supermarkets, ethnic stores, media stations, and shopping centers as Chinese Canadians have moved into a wide variety of professions and vocations.
             The history of Chinese in Canada also extends to diets.  Chinese Canadian dishes have been influenced by Western culture, containing vegetables such as green peppers and relatively few ethnic vegetables. Post-points system Chinese immigrants have a more diversified diet and vegetables consumption. There are now movements away from the old traditional Chinese Canadian cuisines to more specific Cantonese, Sichuan and Mongolian foods among the most common eight Chinese cuisines.
            Vegetables are an important part of Chinese diets.  Unfortunately some of the desired vegetables are not always available. Highly demanded Chinese ECV include bok choy, Chinese broccoli, eggplant, Chinese greens and napa cabbage.  Chinese Canadians spent nearly 4 times the amount of their food budget on vegetables than the average Canadian. There is a willingness to pay a higher price for a desired product or for certain desired qualities, such as high quality, cultural reasons, freshness and health implications. The Chinese in the GTA were found to consume vegetables for health, nutrition, tradition, and preference.  Perceptions of health benefits included nutrients, fewer medical expenses, high fibre content, and prevention of chronic disease. 
            The overall estimated Chinese demand each month in the GTA for Chinese vegetables is $21 million. There is a large potential for Ontario farmers and local economies to benefit from local ECV production through increased employment opportunities, higher incomes, increased availability of nutritious foods, and environmental sustainability.  Though most ECV are still imported, increasing amounts of ECV are capable of being grown in Ontario. Bok choy, for example, the highest demanded Chinese ECV, is able to be grown in Canada and has the potential to be a profitable market. However, less than 3% of the Holland Marsh is presently dedicated to growing Chinese vegetables. There needs to be a better understanding of the market and value chain to take hold of these opportunities. 
            There are many factors that affect consumption patterns, including ethnicity, personal characteristics (for example: language, income, and media exposure) and new Canadians’ degree of acculturation.  Acculturation is a process that immigrants undergo to adopt the culture of the host group (Satia-Abouta, Patterson, Neuhouser, & Elder, 2002).  Acculturation is a reality many immigrants face. Out of the measures used to determine acculturation, Chinese were found to have relatively few friends outside their ethnic group, prefer their own ethnic foods, and respect the values of their ethnic group. These acculturation factors may influence their preference for Chinese vegetables. Households with higher incomes and fewer years spent in Canada are more likely to purchase ethnic vegetables.
            When faced with the decision to purchase a particular ECV or not, Chinese consumers’ consider quality, traceable production, versatility when cooking, and language. Traceability is particularly interesting when discussing local production of ECV, because it means that consumers are interested in where their food comes from and there is demand for local ECV. Another unique aspect of Chinese consumption decisions is how well they respond to their own language and culture. For example, Chinese Canadians generally respond positively to brands and images from China. It is therefore important for retailers to properly label ECV in Mandarin/Cantonese.
            The main area of growth in Canada is immigration.  As more people immigrate to Canada the demand for ECV increases. There is a large market for ECV and there is ability to grow some varieties of ethnic vegetables in Canada. There are opportunities for Canadian farmers that have yet to be realized within the ECV sector. Understanding the connection between ethnicity and consumption patterns may help create policies that will encourage local growth of ECV.  Local production of ECV offers healthier, fresher, higher quality, more sustainable food, all of which helps to improve the local, rural economy.


Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S. (2013). Immigration and Chinese food preferences in the Greater Toronto Area, International Journal of Consumer Studies. ISSN 1470-6423            (forthcoming)

 Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S. (2012).  Culturally appropriate vegetables and economic development. A contextual analysis. Appetite, 59(1), 148-154. Retrieved from   

 Adekunle, B., Filson, G., Sethuratnam, S., & Cidro, D. (2011). Acculturation and consumption:   Examining the consumption behavior of people of Afro-Caribbean descent in Canada. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2(1), 297-313.  Retrieved from

 Satia-Abouta, J., Patterson, R.E., Neuhouser, M.L., & Elder, J. (2002). Dietary acculturation:       Applications to nutrition research and dietetics. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 102(8), 1105-1118. Retrieved from article/pii/S0002822302902476

Statistics Canada. (2003). Ethnic Diversity in Canada: portrait of a multicultural society. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved from x2003001-eng.pdf

Statistics Canada. (2013). Visible minority population and top three visible minority groups,           selected census metropolitan areas, Canada, 2011. Retrieved from http://

Morgan Sage
URA - ECVOntario, SEDRD, University of Guelph
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