Media Release: U of C Study finds that food-insecure families prefer grocery gift cards over food hampers

Aug 30, 2023

CALGARY, ALBERTA, September 6, 2023 – In a ground-breaking study by the University of Calgary, participants living on low incomes reported a preference for grocery gift cards rather than food hampers to address food insecurity. The study was the first of its kind and focused on the only year-round grocery gift card program in Alberta that is delivered by I Can for Kids. Researchers conducted in-depth interviews with parents and frontline social service agencies to explore their experiences and perceptions of the program. Study findings were recently published in the international journal Public Health Nutrition.

Study participants praised how the grocery gift card program offered them greater autonomy, flexibility, and dignity compared to conventional food provision programs. Families appreciated the freedom to shop at convenient times in familiar grocery stores within their own communities. Recipients reported less household stress and valued the privacy, respect, and dignity of the I Can for Kids program. Participants also reported a greater sense of social inclusion and confidence because grocery gift cards allowed them to purchase fresh food that met their families’ unique health, cultural, and religious needs.

Many participants reported that the program helped improve dietary quality and food skills. They could afford more fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats, and they avoided food waste by selecting fresh items that they preferred. Grocery gift cards also inspired many families to plan and cook meals with their children because they could purchase all the ingredients that they needed to prepare specific recipes.

The research also underlined how the grocery gift card model led to relational benefits between recipients and the social service agencies who distributed grocery gift cards on behalf of I Can for Kids. By fostering more trust and stronger rapport, this innovative approach encouraged recipients to ask agencies for help to address other life stressors. Moreover, the grocery gift card program streamlined operations by reducing workload and overhead costs associated with collecting, storing, assembling, and distributing food hampers.

The results of our study suggest that the grocery gift card model is a promising approach to simultaneously alleviate food insecurity and improve diet quality among households who cannot afford to buy enough healthy food.” noted registered dietitian and associate professor Dr. Dana Olstad from the U of C. “Additional research on this program has the potential to establish more evidence in support of income-based responses and policies to best address this important public health issue.” 


Bobbi Turko, Executive Director, I Can for Kids 

Dana Olstad, PhD, RD, Associate Professor

Yun Yun Lee, MSc, RD, Lead Researcher

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