Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is just back from a trade mission to China, with $2.5 billion in agreements. Not all of them are agricultural, but some are. And further, they’re directly connected to the perception that Canadian products are superior.
Why are they considered superior? Well, because they’re Canadian. It’s like Canada has become its own brand.
This comes up again and again. For example, after significant market research in China, Japan, Mexico and right here at home, Canada Beef, a national advocacy group, announced what consumers, importers and processors like most about Canadian beef is that it’s Canadian.
At an Ontario-European forum, hosted by the University of Guelph to connect agri-food business for investment and trade, branding expert Jo-Ann McArthur noted that when chicken farmers considered branding, their research revealed 85 per cent of consumers considered it important that Canadian farmers were identified with the product. That thinking resulted in the popular “Raised by a Canadian farmer” brand for chicken.
Consider the price of branded Canadian potatoes versus their generic counterparts. It’s not unusual to find them several times more expensive than non-branded potatoes. People think there’s value in seeing photos of the Canadian farmers who grew them or the farms they came from, and hearing their stories.
“Stories evoke an emotional response,” said forum speaker Prof. John Cranfield, chair of the Department of Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics at the University of Guelph. “People are buying products with a story.”
It’s time for the agri-food sector to broadly figure out how to take advantage of these stories and bundle the Canadian brand. Canada Beef brand officer James Bradbury says consumers everywhere “understand that Canada has a unique environment with lots of land, water and clean air, an environment that…shapes our values and inspires our work.” Sustainability is a key consumer concern. Is it also part of our values, and therefore part of our brand?
There’s no time to waste. Forum participant Ezio Di Emanuele, now a senior advisor with the accounting and business consulting firm MNP, says looking ahead, we know Canada and the European Union (EU) are going to do more business, including a significant amount more in the agri-food arena. After all, an agreement’s in place.
So why are Canadian agri-businesses waiting for someone to do something, or tell them what to do, before they begin working on market development there? It’s already started. A lot of work can be done between now and when the EU agreement is active. That’s particularly true when it comes to adding value to raw products. Canada is notorious for low-value shipping commodities and buying back finished products at a much higher price, to the peril of our trade balance.
Given our country’s commitment to research, the discussion at the forum underlined to me that the Canada brand has a big opportunity to boast about how research underpins products developed here – not just in the actual product, but also areas that support its development, such as soil conservation.
Brand expert McArthur urged Canada to take some lessons from Ireland, which has launched a branding campaign called Origin Green that speaks to many of the same virtues that attract our admirers. In it, a narrator urges all members of the Irish food sector to get onboard. “Many of the things we need to do for sustainability are already in place,” she says.
Same with Canada. McArthur further suggested the new agriculture and agri-food minister drive towards a Canada brand for our 150th anniversary.
It’s the season of presents . . . and what a great present the Canada brand would be to the agri-food community, and indeed to the world.