Like almost every aspect of business in Canada, food and beverage production and operations have been deeply impacted by COVID-19. What’s more, a return to how things once were is not in the cards. Agricultural and food processing industries will continue to bear the brunt of erratic consumer demand as Canada, and the world, moves forward.
The consistency that food and beverage producers have known for decades in terms of consumer trends and spending has been upended and the scramble to reorient business to meet changing consumer habits has made it difficult to plan for the long term. Moving forward, flexibility and agility are key, but so are the data-backed decision making processes that will best fortify food and beverage industries through the coming years.
In short, the landscape has changed and it will continue to do so. How should the strategies of food and beverage producers respond to this new world? It’s simpler than one might think.
Forging relationships with organizations like the British Columbia Food Processors Association and the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance (CAFTA) and taking part in industry discussions ensures that the newest data informs business decisions. For example, our industry contacts have emphasized the sustained viability of the export market.
Specifically, China is set to remain as Canada’s second biggest importer of food and beverage products, following the United States. However, buying patterns are different now; companies are zeroing in on products that they’re positive will sell (1). This strategy reduces variety at the consumer level but increases speed off the production line straight through shipping to single SKU distribution.
This trend was echoed by one of our clients, William McKinnon, the President of Canadian Alliance Terminals.
“In the food sector, we’re seeing our customers working toward building up their inventory levels. However, they’re only building back where they have the highest level of turnover,” says McKinnon. “They’re being very cautious of how they are working up their inventories. If they had slow moving SKUs that they would normally maintain as part of their portfolio of products, the loads of those SKUs are often either being reduced in size, or are not being replenished.”(2)
Taken together, the contours of the market and its key players emerge. In response to lower discretionary spending within Canada and abroad, the food and beverage production supply chain is seeing a consolidation, from manufacturing to transport and distribution. However, even in the face of such consolidation, China remains a fertile market with room to grow for Canadian food and beverage producers. As pointed out by CAFTA, China’s imports of Canadian goods didn’t even waver during the global economic crisis and there is little sign of apprehension now (3).
The marketing and communication strategies developed by food and beverage producers at this time should respond accordingly. Beneficial alliances and increased sales and opportunities lie in building relationships with both sides of the supply chain and therein lies the key to maximizing opportunities in the export market.
Such relationships—especially with the decision-makers guiding potential customers—should be cultivated over time, with dynamic responses and focused care. But the first step to landing one’s products on the short list involves an equal amount of ground work. This means situating the business as a locus of expertise, professionalism and motivated partnerships throughout all online and offline touchpoints. Once a business’s online presence is solidified around this cohesive and trustworthy identity, it’ll become much simpler to land on a potential client’s list.
It’s important to point out here that hashtags or carefully timed social posts will not get this job done alone. The work to which we refer involves a thoughtful reorientation towards the target market—here, the export markets and industry partnerships that facilitate export market successes— utilizing a combination of research and trend reporting, strategic and critical social media outreach, traditional PR, and the solidification of reliable Google ranking and search engine presence to ensure the folks who are looking for your product find it—and trust it—with minimal friction.
Canada is firmly opposed to food protectionism and, despite the United States’ assaults on the World Trade Organization, Canada’s partnerships remain strong (4). Selling to businesses or consumers within the export market represents an extremely viable business model for Canadian food and beverage producers, particularly as the industry attempts to buffer the difficult impacts of COVID-19. But the key to securing that business lies within a critical strategy which situates a given producer as an expert and as a leader in their field. Hitting the mark could generate business leads which allow Canadian food and beverage producers (as well as freight transporters, overseas businesses and consumers) in the export market to benefit.
The first step is simple: get on that short list.
1 “Making More of Less: How COVID-19 Is Impacting Food Production in Canada.” CTVNews, 7 Apr. 2020, https://www.ctvnews.ca/canada/making-more-of-less-how-covid-19-is-impacting-food-production-in-canada-1.4886097.
2 Stoddart, Jonathan. “Canadian Alliance William McKinnon on the ‘New Normal’ for 3PLs.” Canadian Alliance - Metro Vancouver Logistics & Warehousing, 23 Apr. 2020, https://canadianalliance.ca/industry-news/canadian-alliance-william-mckinnon-on-the-new-normal-for-3pls/.
3 “Canada and China.” Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance, http://cafta.org/trade-agreements/canada-china-trade/. Accessed 26 May 2020.
4 Canada, Global Affairs. “Statement on Joint Commitment with WTO Members to Maintain Predictable and Rules-Based Trade at This Critical Time.” Gcnws, 6 May 2020, https://www.canada.ca/en/global-affairs/news/2020/05/statement-on-joint-commitment-with-wto-members-to-maintain-predictable-and-rules-based-trade-at-this-critical-time.html.