Canadian grocers make $3M per year from penny-rounding: UBC study

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin

Grocery stores across the country are cashing in on the demise of the penny, according to a young researcher at the University of British Columbia.

Third-year economics and mathematics student Christina Cheng has written a paper that says Canadian grocers are making $3.27 million per year from penny-rounding.

Ottawa announced plans in 2012 to phase out the copper coin, and as a result, cash purchases are now rounded up or down to the nearest five-cent increment.

Cheng wanted to know whether the change was benefiting shoppers or stores.

“Penny-rounding always becomes a guessing game,” the 19-year-old explained. “It’s a fun guessing game because it might not hurt in the short run, looking at several cents, but in the long run, I wondered if this actually accumulates.”

Curious, she decided to use her spare time outside of class to investigate.

First, Cheng enlisted a friend and they spent about a month and a half documenting more than 18,000 prices at grocery stores, taking pictures of price tags and entering the data into a spreadsheet.

They found that most prices ended in .99 or .98 — numbers that would result in bill totals being rounded up for cash transactions, if tax is not applied.

Cheng took the data and used a computer simulator to create “grocery baskets” with various items. She adjusted different variables such as the numbers of items and amount of taxes, and factored in data from the Bank of Canada on what payment methods consumers are most likely to use.

Cheng said her analysis found that grocery stores are profiting from penny-rounding.

In the end, Canadian consumers don’t end up paying much extra, but the rounding on cash transactions can mean big money for grocery retailers across the country, with each store standing to collect $157 per year, Cheng said.

In October, a paper Cheng wrote on the research won a competition for the best undergraduate student paper at the International Atlantic Economic Society’s conference in Montreal. Her study is slated to be published next June in the Atlantic Economic Journal.

The Retail Council of Canada disagrees with Cheng’s findings, said Karl Littler, the group’s vice president of public affairs.

The study’s methods don’t reflect real grocery baskets or take into account the impacts of various provincial taxes on bill totals, he said, noting that the average grocery bill is $53 and consists of a larger number of items than Cheng’s simulated baskets included.

Littler said the council’s members have reported anecdotally that penny-round is about 50-50, with half of the bill totals being rounded up and benefiting stores, and the other half being rounded down and benefiting consumers.

“There’s no nefarious plan here to scoop pennies,” he said.

Cheng said she isn’t looking to demonize Canada’s grocery industry, and simply wanted to look at an issue that affects most Canadians on a daily basis.

Her work on penny-rounding was all done outside of class time as a labour of love, which Cheng said really surprised her professors.

“Tying research with application is what I love to do,” she said.

Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chilliwack-Kent MLA Laurie Throness watches the results on election night. The ex-Liberal’s tumultuous campaign and the narrow margin for victory ahead of the mail-in ballot count leaves the future of the riding’s seat in limbo for at least the next week. (Facebook/Laurie Throness)
B.C. VOTES 2020: Future for incumbent Throness uncertain as riding awaits results

Chilliwack-Kent candidate hopeful, resigned waiting on final count

File Photo
COVID-19 outbreak declared at Agassiz Seniors Community

First declared outbreak in Agassiz-Harrison since pandemic began

The family and friends of Abbotsford resident Kaitlyn Cassels have launched a GoFundMe for her after she suffered serious injuries following a bad fall on Thursday night. (Submitted)
GoFundMe created for Abbotsford woman after horrible fall

19-year-old Kaitlyn Cassels suffers many injuries after falling 27 feet off Agassiz-Rosedale Bridge

Leonard Golanowski captured Sunday night’s colourful sunset on the Fraser River. (Oct. 25, 2020)
Record lows, and even a touch of snow, for Chilliwack over weekend

Chilliwack breaks two October records for cold so far, with a wet week ahead

File
Harrison seeks $2 million in grants for storm water infrastructure

Funding would go to curb flooding, hazards on Hot Springs Road

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

Graphic on promo material for Best Buy Canada’s Tech Wonderland event.
Drive-through ‘Tech Wonderland’ coming to PNE site a few weeks before Christmas

Best Buy Canada-backed ‘holiday’ event to raise money for charity

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of seven-year-old in Langley was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. (B.C. government photo)
Unnamed school in Fraser Health region closed due to COVID-19

Closure announced by Dr. Bonnie Henry during daily briefing

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

RCMP have released more details regarding what led up to an arrest caught on video in Williams Lake Sunday, Oct. 26. (Facebook video screenshot)
Review launched after ‘high-risk, multi-jurisdictional’ chase, arrest in Williams Lake

RCMP launching a full review and code of conduct investigation

(Pxfuel)
B.C. limits events in private homes to household, plus ‘safe six’ amid COVID-19 surge

Henry issued a public health order limiting private gatherings to one household, plus a group of ‘safe six’ only

Most Read