Fast food divides opinions with some people loving the convenience and others blaming it for the rise in obesity and unhealthy eating habits. However, fast food has long been a firmly established part of the modern society and does not show any signs of going away.

Since the introduction of the first fast-food restaurants in the United States, some fast-food chains have spread around the globe and others, such as Tim Hortons’ in Canada, have become homegrown favourites.

In this article, you will find statistics on the fast-food industry in Canada. We will also look at how the Covid-19 pandemic affected the industry and what the future is predicted to hold for the fast food sector.

Fast Food Statistics for Canadians

  • McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in 1948 and Tim Hortons in 1969.
  • Canadian fast food industry is worth $29.8 billion.
  • In 2021, there were 31,577 fast food vendors in Canada.
  • 394,134 people worked in the fast food industry in 2021.
  • Almost 30% of Canadians have worked in the fast food industry at some point.
  • 4 out of 5 Canadians see fast-food restaurants as an important first job source.
  • Households in Canada spent almost a quarter of their budgets on eating out.
  • 16% of Canadians buy food or snacks from fast food vendors every day.
  • Only 11% of Canadians eat fast food because they feel it is good value for money.
  • 84% of foods served by fast food vendors are unhealthy.
  • When eating fast food, children can consume 800–1,200 calories in one sitting.
  • 29% of Canadians say having healthy options available at fast-food restaurants is important.
  • Only 7% of consumers have visited a fast-food restaurant after seeing their advert.
  • Less than 4% of Canadians would open a fast-food restaurant.
  • Following the pandemic, 47% of restaurants say they will increase prices.

Brief History of fast food

McDonald’s, with its first assembly line system in the world, is credited as the first fast-food restaurant. However, some people say that the first fast-food chain was White Castle, which was founded in 1921 in Wichita, Kansas.

Before White Castle, people considered burgers as low-quality food made out scraps and spoiled meat and sold at fairs and circuses. The founders of White Castle wanted to change this view and built their restaurants so that customers could see into the kitchens and how the food was prepared. The restaurants might not have had the success of McDonald’s, but they were important in changing people’s perception of burgers and fast food.

The first McDonald’s opened in 1948, Burger King and Taco Bell in the 1950s and Wendy’s in 1969. The first Tim Hortons opened in May 1964 in Hamilton, Ontario. Despite other chains, including Tim Hortons, expanding to other countries, none have had quite the same success as McDonald’s.

What is the fast food market in Canada worth?

In 2021, the fast food industry in Canada was worth $27 billion. Between 2016 and 2021, the fast food industry grew by 1.3%. Following the pandemic, the fast-food restaurants in Canada experienced an 8.2% market growth in 2022 and the market size is now $29.8 billion.

Online food deliveries continued to grow during the pandemic and were worth an estimated $3,589 million in 2021. Even after the pandemic, people have continued to enjoy the convenience of having good delivered to their door and the delivery sector is expected to grow by 7.7% by 2024 when it will be worth an estimated $4,482 million.

The street vendor market, with 2,093 small businesses and employing 2,483 people, represents $325 million of the total fast food market. There are no businesses in the street vendor sector with a market share bigger than 5%.

How many fast-food restaurants are there in Canada?

The biggest fast-food chain in Canada is Tim Hortons, which had 4,268 restaurants around the country in 2021. Subway had the second most restaurants with 3,148 stores. In total, there were 31,577 fast food vendors in Canada in 2021. This is approximately 10.3 fast-food restaurants per 10,000 people.

Ontario, with the biggest population of the provinces and territories, has the most fast-food establishments. There were 5,766 fast food vendors in the province in 2021 and 758 of these were in Toronto.

How many people does the fast food industry employ?

In 2021, there were 394,134 people working in the fast food industry. Despite the pandemic, there will be around 43,300 new jobs created in the industry between 2019 and 2028.

28.3% of Canadians have worked directly in the food service industry and almost half of the population have either worked in the industry themselves or someone in their family has or still does. Four out of five people see fast-food restaurants as an important first job source.

3.7% of Canadians were employed in the food service industry on 2021 and 2.6% of Canadians say they or someone in their close family works in a business which heavily depends on the food service industry.

How often do Canadians eat fast food?

Households in Canada spent almost a quarter (24%) of their budgets on eating out. 63% of Canadians say eating out is a luxury, yet almost the same percentage (60%) say they buy food from restaurants at least once a week. 16% of Canadians buy food or snacks from restaurants every day.

Younger people are more likely to buy food and snacks on the go, with consumers in the 18-34 age group likely to buy a meal or a snack two times per week on average. In the older age group, people get restaurant meals or snacks about 1.7 times per week. People from Ontario and the Atlantic provinces eat restaurant food twice a week, in Western Canada the number is 1.6 and in Quebec 1.4 times per week.

Breakfast on the go is a popular choice for many Canadians, with up to 40% of people saying they have breakfast outside the house. The reasons for having breakfast on the go include the convenience of just picking something up on route to work and not having the time to prepare breakfast. 34% of people said they do not want to cook and take away breakfasts are most popular among the Millennials.

Most Canadians do not see eating out as good value

One of the most common reasons for eating out, especially for people aged 18-34, is that they are too busy to cook and picking up fast food is easier when they are in a rush. People over 35 were more likely to see getting a fast food take out as a treat themselves.

Only 11% of Canadians said they ate out because they felt it was good value for money. 7% of people said eating out or getting a take away from a fast food vendor was an affordable way to entertain family or friends.

Majority of fast food is unhealthy

The industry trends show that 84% of foods served by fast food vendors are unhealthy and 72% of the drinks are unhealthy. Yet, most children (84%) eat fast food at least once a week.

Children aged 13 to 17 can consume between 800 and 1,200 calories in one sitting when eating fast food. Over 30% of the calories come from saturated fats and sugar. Teenage boys eat the most fast food with 9.3% of their calorie intake coming from fast food compared to 6.3 for the average Canadian. Women over 70 get the least calories (1.9%) from fast food.

50% of students in grades five to eight eat fast food at least once a week while 70% of students in grades nine to twelve are eating fast food once or more each week.

People who eat more fast food are also likely to eat less fruit and vegetables, binge drink and have a higher BMI.

Are healthy fast food options important?

Only 29% of Canadians say that having a healthy option available when eating fast food is important. The percentages of people preferring fast food made from locally grown products or organic ingredients are even smaller at 16% and 7% respectively.

Most people are not choosing fast food because of advertising

Only just over 7% of consumers say they were influenced by advertising to visit a fast-food restaurant. A slightly bigger percentage of people have been persuaded by what they have seen on the social media, with 8.9% of people having visited a fast-food restaurant because of a social media post.

Almost 10% of businesses said they use social media to share information about their location and menu. The most popular platforms are Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Opening a fast-food restaurant is seen as a desirable career choice by very few Canadians

While a third of Canadians are dreaming or have at some point dreamt of opening a restaurant, only 3.7% would open a fast-food restaurant. Casual, family-style restaurants are the most popular option at 32.7%, followed by a pub or a bar at 23.4%. Coffee shops and lounges were also more popular than fast food, with 13% and 11.1% respectively.

What are the most popular fast foods?

Tim Hortons is the most popular restaurant in Canada. It is owned by Restaurant Brands Inc. which also includes Burger King. Following Tim Hortons in market share come the Starbucks Corporation and McDonalds.

The most popular order from fast food vendors is not food, but drinks and mainly coffee. Burgers and sandwiches are the most popular eat out choices, while is pizza is a more popular option when taking away or getting a delivery.

Ethnic foods are also popular in Canada with 13% of Canadian consumers saying they frequently buy fast food from ethnic restaurants. Canadians who choose ethnic restaurants say they enjoy experiencing different cultures through food.

Canadians enjoy trying new foods

As well as the 13% who enjoy eating ethnic foods regularly, 39% of Canadians say they like trying new foods. A further 26% of people say eating out is their favourite activity to do with friends or family and one out of six say dining out is a hobby.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the fast food industry

In 2019, before the pandemic, the fast food service industry reached over $93 billion in sales. The expectation was for it to reach $100 in the following year, but with restaurants forced to close because of the pandemic, many, in particular smaller establishments, had to file for bankruptcy. In a Restaurants Canada survey, 81% of independent restaurants said they had taken on new debt because of the pandemic.

Before the pandemic, 50% of fast-food sales had been in store, compared to just 4% in 2020. Online food orders grew by 36% during the pandemic, and the portion of drive-through sales increased as well.

What does the future hold for fast food in Canada?

In response to the pandemic, 47% of food service operators said they would increase their prices over the next twelve months. However, this is not expected to stop the industry’s growth and the fast food market is predicted to reach $55 billion by 2027. The compound annual growth rate for the fast food industry is predicted to be 1.5% – 4.7%.

Summary

With 10.3 fast-food restaurants per 10,000 people, Canadians are not short of choice for eating out or getting a take away. 16% of Canadians take advantage of the vast choice every day.

Fast food is important for the Canadian economy employing close to 400,000 Canadians. Many Canadians also see the fast-food industry as an important source for first jobs.

Despite the pandemic forcing some fast-food restaurants to close permanently, the industry is predicted to continue growing and reach $55 billion by 2027.

Frequently Asked Questions

In 2021, the fast food industry in Canada was worth $27 billion. Between 2016 and 2021, the fast food industry grew by 1.3%. Following the pandemic, the fast-food restaurants in Canada experienced an 8.2% market growth in 2022 and the market size is now $29.8 billion.

In total, there were 31,577 fast food vendors in Canada in 2021. This is approximately 10.3 fast-food restaurants per 10,000 people.

In 2021, there were 394,134 people working in the fast food industry. Despite the pandemic, there will be around 43,300 new jobs created in the industry between 2019 and 2028.

Households in Canada spent almost a quarter (24%) of their budgets on eating out. 63% of Canadians say eating out is a luxury, yet almost the same percentage (60%) say they buy food from restaurants at least once a week. 16% of Canadians buy food or snacks from restaurants every day.

Tim Hortons is the most popular restaurant in Canada. It is owned by Restaurant Brands Inc. which also includes Burger King. Following Tim Hortons in market share come the Starbucks Corporation and McDonalds.

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