It’s been three years since CETA, Canada’s landmark trade agreement with the European Union (EU), began taking force in September 2017. Progressively, over the span of its seven-year implementation, the agreement is expected to eliminate 94 per cent of existing tariffs and increase two-way trade by 23 per cent, according to the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance. So far, it appears we are well on our way. Imports from Europe have already risen by double-digits, and unsurprisingly a significant portion of that increase has been driven by food and beverage products.
But lower import costs and greater accessibility aren’t the only reasons why Canadian food retailers are stocking more on their shelves from across the pond.
European food and beverage products are uniquely positioned to meet the changing preferences and appetites of a more discerning Canadian shopper, who places an ever-greater premium on quality and authenticity. Whether cheeses, meats, olive oils, fruits, produce, confectionary, beer or wine, many EU products represent centuries-old regional traditions, and each one of them is distinct from the next.
In fact, under CETA 143 European food and beverage products that hold a geographical indication, such as Halloumi cheese from Cyprus, Pilsner beer from Czech Republic, Greek Kalamata olives and Chouriço from Portugal are now officially recognized and protected in Canada. These products are clearly distinguished by Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) and Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) labels on their packaging, so consumers can be sure they are getting the genuine article.
Given that CETA extends to all 27 EU member states, from the upper reaches of Scandinavia to coasts of the Mediterranean and Black Seas, there is a staggering variety of differentiating food products that businesses have the opportunity to introduce to Canadian consumers.
Despite the remarkable diversity of European food products, there is one important attribute of commonality across the board: they are all subject to meeting the world’s most stringent standards for food safety and animal and plant health. Food traceability is at the heart of EU food safety policy, which requires all food producers to be able to identify the origins of their raw materials (e.g. ingredients, packaging, etc.) and the destination of their products. Food safety legislation is harmonized throughout the Union, which means Canadians can be reassured that a food product from Spain is just as safe as the one from Denmark or Finland.
European products are also within easier reach to Canada than some might expect. As we are more accustomed to importing from our neighbours to the south, there is a common misconception that distance poses an issue when working with European suppliers. In fact, from a logistics perspective, shipping from Europe to Canada is often more efficient than from other parts of North America, like California or Mexico, as transport by sea can be less costly and carbon-intensive than moving product over land by road and rail.
With all of these reasons to look across the Atlantic, here are three tips to source the very best food and drinks Europe has to offer:
Take advantage of premier food and beverage industry trade shows and events
Europe is home to some of the world’s most renowned food and beverage tradeshows. The largest are SIAL in Paris and Anuga in Cologne, which occur on alternating years and attract hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the globe to see the latest food trends and innovations. There are also dozens of regionally-focused and specialty food shows geared to particular product categories – from cheese and dairy, to seafood and certified organic products. While COVID-19 has posed some challenges and delays, many of these events are taking steps to adapt to the new normal, including adopting new health and safety protocols and delivering alternative online content and virtual events. In addition, many trade show websites have comprehensive and searchable exhibitor lists, serving as a valuable resources in and of themselves for identifying top suppliers.
Connect with European chambers of commerce in Canada and government trade representatives
A great first step to making connections with European suppliers is to engage with one of the EU state chambers of commerce or government trade representatives at embassies and consulates – all of whom are here in Canada with the express purpose of facilitating commercial relationships with businesses like yours. The EUCCAN website has contact information for all EU state chambers of commerce and business associations located in Canada: https://euccan.com/members/.
Leverage suppliers’ deep knowledge about their products
No one knows more about the best ways to market and savour their products than the producers themselves – many of whom are following local and family traditions spanning generations. When engaging with European suppliers, you have the opportunity to move beyond transactional relationships, and tap into deep insights that will help you best present their products and educate your consumers on what makes them so special and the many ways they can be enjoyed. Be sure to ask your suppliers questions about local recipes, preparation methods and accompaniments to make the most of your relationships.
Interested to know more? Please visit: www.morethanfood.ca
Delegation of the European Union to Canada: https://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/canada_en
EU Chamber of Commerce in Canada: https://euccan.com/
Prepared in the context and in collaboration with the European Union campaign More Than Food Canada and Christian Sivière.