Program still exists within Agriculture Canada.
OTTAWA—The former government reduced funding for the Canada Brand initiative to help agrifood boost exports in 2014 just as Canada was launching talks for new free trade agreements, says Kathleen Donohue, Director General of the Market Access Secretariat at Agriculture Canada.
The Canada Brand was created in 2006 “to gain the attention of foreign consumers based on international research that demonstrated that buyers and consumers worldwide had very positive perceptions of Canada as a country but, in fact, they had little knowledge about our food and agriculture products,” she told the Senate agriculture committee.
The research showed “Canada’s products were assumed to be high quality, trustworthy, clean, safe and environmentally sustainable, while Canadians themselves were perceived to be honest, friendly and good business partners,” she said.
The Canada Brand program, run by Agriculture Canada, received $32 million in funding over four years but the former Harper government that was allowed to lapse in 2014, she said. The program included symbols and messaging and other promotional items. “It coordinated activities around trade shows, retail and food service promotions and media, and influencer campaigns were also provided through this program.
“The Canada Brand has since been scaled back to a basic framework where members can continue to take advantage of the existing tag line, photo bank and other tools,” she said.
More than 700 Canadian small- and medium-sized enterprises and national industry associations are members of the Canada Brand program. That support shows the “ongoing value placed by Canadian stakeholders and companies in the country branding in helping them succeed in the marketplace,” she said.
“As well, reports from provincial and sector partners confirm the more positive outcomes for our companies when they are positioned under a Canada Brand umbrella. Branding leverages Canada’s excellent reputation to the fullest. It links positive perspectives more directly to our products in order to enhance their profile and establish business opportunities.”
Her revelation surprised several Senators. Terry Mercer from Nova Scotia wondered why the program was cut to a basic framework when it was working so well. “It seems to me that, damn it all, if it is working, you go full speed ahead.”
The program should have added importance with the government’s objective of $75 billion in agrifood exports by 2025, he said. “If the model is working, and we have a huge target to reach, I don’t see why we’re changing something that’s working. … Why not keep the pedal to the floor?”
Senator Norman Doyle said the committee has heard repeated calls for increaed marketing efforts to boost Canadian exports to take advantage of all the new trade deals.
Donohue said the government is targetting “key markets where we do have free trade agreements or where we see that the opportunities are tremendous.”
Agriculture Canada also assists agrifood exporters through its AgriMarketing Program, which “supports industry’s efforts to increase and diversify their sales to international markets, seize market opportunities and leverage Canada’s reputation for high-quality and safe foods.”
As well it offers the Agrifood Trade Commissioner Service that includes 35 trade commissioners who are posted in Canadian embassies and consulates in key international markets, Donohue said. These positions are complemented by another 12 technical specialists funded by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. “These trade commissioners and our technical specialists are experts in navigating in-market challenges, connecting Canadian industry to foreign buyers and developing promotional strategies for Canadian agriculture and agri-food companies.”
The department also funds a market partnership fund, which has $1.75 million over five years “to strengthen the ability of our trade commissioners to deliver targeted agrifood-specific branding and market activities in priority markets. This fund focuses on activities that build upon the visibility of Canadian products internationally and increase the opportunities for Canadian companies to meet with international buyers.”
The department assists exporters at at key trade shows promoting Canadian food. “These trade shows represent the largest and most important events of their kind,” she said. “They are tangible examples of the department’s market development efforts, operating in cooperation with both industry and our provinces.”
Among the shows are Gulfood in Dubai, Foodex Japan, Food and Hotel Asia in South Korea, Anuga in Germany, SIAL Paris Food and Hotel China and Seafood Expo in Qingdao, China.