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Jul 22, 2013 10:16 AM

Groceries- Vancouver vs Victoria

My husband and I will be in Vancouver over the weekend, followed by a week near Victoria with family. We are expected to chip in and by some groceries to make group meals.
Should we go grocery shopping in Vancouver or wait until we get to the island? Any recommendations for farmer's markets, bakeries, butchers, etc? We eat everything and will create our menus based on what's available, but would like to try to keep costs reasonable.

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  1. i think our answers will depend on what "near victoria" means - and how you're getting there (by car aboard the ferry? or floatplane, or private boat or ....)

    if it was me - but we live nearby - not flying in from USA or something - i don't want to waste my holiday time shopping so i do pack along certain things that i like to cook with - but for convenience and food safety (it's hot and takes a few hours to get to the Island (ie Vanc Island) - i'd probably figure out the nearest supermarket to the cottage or condo or wherever you are going.

    Island Farms is a good dairy brand to look for - it is not organic or anything but it's a good local made on the Island brand ... incl good ice cream that is good enuf for most of us who are feeding a family/Friends meal - and priced right - it is a farmer cooperative from the 1940's that has become big and corporate but .... it is a decent product.

    and if you look around on this board there are several wineries, cheese making places, fish places, farm stands etc, (Look at recent threads for key words like Nanaimo, Parksville, Cowichan, etc)

    (note - despite what some tourists think, Tofino is not "near" victoria - it's several hours' drive)

    so are you staying directly IN the city of Victoria? if YES, then that's easy (some people like Thrifty Foods - but it has been bought out by one of the huge national chains and now has mixed reviews - whereas it used to be our automatic "go-to" ...

    if going out to a cottage or a boat or something - then yes, you need to plan ahead for shopping.

    do you have any day trips planned? If YES - then, again, check out the key words above for local shopping, wineries, lunch spots etc (Nanaimo, Cowichan, etc) Rock Cod Cafe in Cow Bay (Cowichan Bay) is good - and a very scenic spot - old working waterfront well-preserved. It is near Duncan BC.

    if you are flying in to SEA or BLI, and renting a car, then stop in Bellingham for your fav trader joe's items that you just have to bring over the border - esp if you are visiting Cdn friends/family - there are many of us who think that TJ's still has some pretty good stuff! (note some items are limited by law - but the tj's in bellingham usually has a list posted on the bulletin board over by the restrooms


    ps - note that the first wkd in Aug is a statutory holiday up here so the ferries will be really busy - see all the info here

    2 Replies
    1. re: Georgia Strait

      Thanks, this is helpful. To clarify: we are flying in to Vancouver and renting a car, so we will be mobile. During our time on the island, we are staying in not IN Victoria, but within a reasonable drive.
      Since I've never been, what is the relative difference in food cost between Vancouver and the island? Is one significantly cheaper, or are they roughly the same?
      Also, to give background: we are from Minneapolis and used to shopping locally, practically every day...we have lots of farmers markets/co-ops/butchers etc, so fresh/local is a big selling point for us.

      1. re: forgottendreamr

        I would definately just plan to do your shopping in Sidney. Thrifty Foods used to be the local grocery change and was wonderful in terms of quality and service. Unfortunatley they were purchased a few years ago by a larger Canadian chain and are no longer unique or particularly locally -focused. They are probably still the best option for a regular grocery store.
        The Red Barn Market: is highly recommended for more specialty items, especially their house charchuterie and meat products- their bacon is superb. The West Saanich location would be the closest to Sidney.

        Vancouver Island is quite large and prices are relatively the same as in Vancouver. As another poster already mentioned, gas is much cheaper in Victoria (usually by at least 10 cents or more) due to lower taxes and sur-charges. I would seriously consider making a ferry reservation if at all possible, especially if you're travelling on a weekend. It's worth the extra $17.50 to ensure you don't have to wait at the ferry terminal for several hours.
        It takes about 25-30 mins to drive into the downtown core of Victoria from Sidney.

    2. ps - here are a couple of other Vanc Island threads - i realize you may not be going very far from the City of Victoria - but there are ideas here for day trips etc
      links to cowichan valley food touring - it's pretty close to victoria - scenic driving once you've left the Goldstream area and then get off in to the side roads on the north end of the Malahat Pass (there's one viewpoint where you can see far over to Mt Baker in WA State - huge volcanic mtn

      1. ok - so i assume you are driving your rental car on to the ferry from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay (there are a couple of other routes - see --- AND it is hot in the parking lots, on the car deck of the ferry, and during the drive - and you won't have a cooler if you're flying - so go to the Thrifty Foods in Sidney - (linked in my first post) - it is way better that way in terms of food safety and the quality of your food once it's taken that journey.

        consumer prices are the similar - yes, there may be a difference for certain goods but it's not noticeable - it's not like 1 dollar extra for milk at the same chain supermarket. (thrifty's is on the Island and on the Mainland. - oh, and right now, to explain further about price differences, gas is 5 cents cheaper / liter in Sidney right now than it is in my town on the Mainland - not sure how all the pricing strategies work, even if one accounts for transit surtaxes etc - go figure.


        for any trip to the Island, the ferry is the expensive part for many of us at the consumer level. Again, note the busy times on their website

        there are so many nice country drives around that Sidney area - and if your condo / family has a cooler - take it with you on the drive with an ice block in it -- you are bound to come across a farmgate along the way (always take the side roads!) ... eg sweet corn is in season here - and some berries too. Also - what we call "new potatoes" (just steam and eat with good butter & herbs or chill for a salad) - green beans, maybe some of the spring veggies have not bolted yet, beets, etc.

        you'll for sure want to ask someone around the town of Sidney were to get the best corn and the best fish -

        re: fish -
        your first clue - the shop should not smell fishy - it should smell like the ocean. Also - it should be busy! Certain salmon and halibut right now are in season - we always get the fillets, skin side down on BBQ foil (you will not be turning this fillet over), put on a pre=heated bbq outside - good butter and lemon - excellent - do not overcook - big sin ;


        i am more familiar with Cowichan area so I can't recommend anything specific in terms of small shops, butcher, bakery etc in Sidney - but my friend's parents live there in Sidney - and I know they enjoy the local friendliness - i'm sure you'll learn the special shops asap just by asking in the coffee shops and the other places around.

        i hope that helps

        1. +1 to waiting until you are on Vancouver Island to do the shopping for fresh items. There are a few farmgate stalls on the Saanich Peninsula, and so seasonal fruit and veg should be easy enough to find (since you have a car).
          Food costs in Vancouver and Victoria are pretty similar (within 5-10% either way).
          Perhaps ask your family where they like to shop?

          1. If you're in Sidney on a Saturday - you'll be able to hit the Market at the Saanich Fairgrounds - really good one with a higher # of food stalls to craft ones. Also on Thursday's is the Sidney night market through Aug (but much more crafts/businesses - but you do get a few farm stalls) - typically better for people watching/mini-donut buying. I second the Red Barn - great meat & in-house smoking/sausages. Oldfield Rd has a few stands within easy drive of each other - Sun Wing (tom's, basil), Oldfield (berries,pies,fruit), Dan's (produce,berries) and Mattick's back on the highway (produce,corn,eggs). And nice local wine on the Peninsula to go with your local food.

            3 Replies
            1. re: cassie

              that's great info - i had forgotten about Matticks Farm - have not been in years.

              now to figure out how does one get to beautiful Sidney Spit - the public park? (the old ammun*ition place? some of the area is owned privately tho, correct?)


              1. re: Georgia Strait

                Shoot, I said Matticks, but I meant Mitchell's (on the highway). but it's a Red Barn at Matticks (Cordova Bay) - one of their locations to stock up on their great meat/produce/boutique grocery items.

                1. re: cassie

                  Can't say I'm all that impressed with the produce or meat at Red Barn. However, Dan's Country Market on Oldfield Road sells their own awesome produce (non-sprayed) and local organic grass fed meat in its freezer. They also sell fresh local free range chickens which are phenomenally good. The blueberries, strawberries and raspberries at Dan's are non-sprayed and really tasty, especially this summer. The only kicker is that Dan's is a day time place. I think they close around 5:30 or 6 in summer.