Food retail: Local, provincial and territorial planning policies for healthy food outlets

Learn how local, provincial and territorial governments can increase healthy eating with policies that increase availability of and access to healthy food outlets

Inside this healthy eating policy pack

Planning policies for healthy food outlets


Food retail


Planning policies for healthy food outlets 1,2

  • Planning policies that encourage the availability of outlets selling fresh fruit and vegetables 1
  • Integrate healthy food access into city and regional land use policies and community planning to establish healthy food environments 3
  • Incentives and rules for stores to locate in underserved neighbourhoods (e.g., increase access to supermarkets)2,4
  • Encouragement of community food production, smallholdings and home farms and gardens 2,4

Degree of policy adoption*

Provinces and territories: LOW
31 Canadian municipalities:** MEDIUM

Current action(s) in Canada

Provinces and territories

While all provinces and territories have planning acts that provide direction related to community planning and land use as well as guidance on authority of local governments, these acts generally do not address specifics related to healthy food environments.

Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement goes beyond what is adopted in other jurisdictions, providing additional guidance on land use and provides direction on healthy community planning across the province.

31 Canadian municipalities**

All local governments have planning policies (e.g., official plans, land-use and zoning bylaws) that provide direction related to community planning and land use, including where food retail and service outlets can be located. The majority of these policies could be strengthened to provide increased access to healthy food within communities.

A unique policy approach was adopted by Toronto, via an amendment to its zoning bylaw 5 that allows commercial development, such as food stores, in previously residential areas (e.g., residential apartment tower neighbourhoods), creating the opportunity to make healthy food choices available within walking distance in lower income neighbourhoods.

Farmers’ markets

The following local governments increase access to local and healthier foods via bylaws for farmers’ markets within communities:

Community gardens

Several municipalities also increase access to healthy foods via community garden policies, zoning bylaws, or community-level plans that support community gardens and/or greenhouses.

Opportunities for action

Planning policies supporting healthy food access are largely present at the local level. Clear, detailed and expanded provincial/territorial legislation that defines healthy communities, providing explicit policy directions for connecting health and the built environment, including healthy food access, would provide local planners with more direction and authority to introduce healthy community policies and standards into local, regional planning documents and bylaws (e.g., Official Plans, Zoning Bylaws) and local governments and appeal boards with clearer guidance and requirements with which to review policies and related documents. 1,7,8,9

Official plans, land-use planning and zoning by-laws are opportunities through which local governments can influence food environments.10,11 Opportunities include:

  • creating urban containment boundaries to limit the expansion of the urban area onto undeveloped lands
  • building new communities that are higher density, transit-oriented, mixed-use, walkable
  • defining areas where infill and intensification are possible and desirable and encourage new growth in these existing areas
  • protecting agricultural land specifically for agriculture through local land use planning and zoning regulations; integrating urban residential and farm uses at the urban/peri-urban interface
  • zoning bylaws can ensure that agriculture occurs in suitable locations and under the proper condition 12
  • creating healthy food zones via zoning or land-use bylaws 1
  • policies to support access to farmers’ markets,13 community gardens gardens and other opportunities for urban agriculture 12,14
  • policies to increase access to supermarkets and other retailers providing healthy food 1,15

* Levels of adoption:  LOW = very few jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action; MEDIUM = some, but not all jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action; HIGH = most jurisdictions have adopted evidence-informed policy action.

** Prevention Policies Directory captures information for 31 Canadian municipalities (18 largest municipalities in Canada, and at least 1-2 largest municipalities in all other provinces/territories).


1 Vanderlee L, Goorang S, Karbasy K, Schermel A, L’Abbe M. Creating healthier food environments in Canada: Current policies and priority actions – Summary report. Toronto; University of Toronto, 2017.

2 World Cancer Research Fund International. (2009). Policy recommendations. Retrieved from:

3 Cancer Care Ontario Prevention System Quality Index Policy Opportunities (2016).

4 World Cancer Research Fund International. NOURISHING policy framework. Retrieved from:

5 Alberta Policy Coalition for Cancer Prevention (APCCP). (2016). Toronto’s Residential Apartment Commercial Zone. Retrieved from:

6 Ville de Montréal. Community gardens. Retrieved from:,68887600&_dad=portal&_schema=PORTAL

7 Alberta Policy Coalition for Chronic Disease Prevention (APCCP). (2018). Alberta’s Nutrition Report Card on Healthy Food Environments for Children and Youth. Retrieved from:

8 ommunities/CIP-Legislative-Comparison-Survey-Report_20131217.aspx

9 Minaker, L., Shuh, A., Olstad, D., Engler-Stringer, R., Black, J., & Mah, C. (2016). Retail food environments research in Canada: A scoping review. Can J Public Health, 107, eS4-eS13. doi:

10 Minaker, L., Shuh, A., Olstad, D., Engler-Stringer, R., Black, J., & Mah, C. (2016). Retail food environments research in Canada: A scoping review. Can J Public Health, 107, eS4-eS13. doi:

11 Canadian Institute of Planners. Healthy communities practice guide. Retrieved from:, pp 35-41.

12 ChangeLab Solutions. (2011). Seeding the city: Land use policies to promote urban agriculture. Retrieved from:

13 ChangeLab Solutions. (2013). From the ground up: Land use policies to protect and promote farmers’ markets. Retrieved from:

14 Government of Canada. (2017). The chief public health officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada 2017 – Designing healthy living. Retrieved from:

15 ChangeLab Solutions. (2013). Licensing for lettuce: A guide to the model licensing ordinance for healthy food retailers. Retrieved from: