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Canadians on Canada

An insider’s guide to doing business with the True North

Quebec and Toronto, located in the urban east of the country, are considered very distinct markets in terms of diversity and demand than the down-home, traditional makeup of the central and coastal provinces, or the young and hip demographics of Vancouver on the West Coast. 

“It is because of Quebec that Canada has such a high per-day per-capita consumption rate,” notes Guy Milette of Courchesne Larose Ltd., referring to the French-Canadian metropolis’ cosmopolitan flair and ‘European’ style of buying groceries on a per-meal basis rather than for days in advance. 

The Age of Reason

In addition to Canada’s ethnic diversity, toss in age for an even more potent mix.  As well known educator and author Arnold Edinborough famously said, “Canada has never been a melting-pot…we are more like a tossed salad.” 

Canada’s graying population, representing nearly a third of total population at or above retirement age (but without the fixed income of so many American retirees), has placed a new emphasis on quality and portion size surpassing previous concerns about food safety and traceability. 

Both Lemaire and industry marketing consultant Chris Yii-Luoma cited age factors as a major aspect of both the survey and their own observations about Canadian preferences.  Ignoring such variations could be costly for suppliers. “You have the Boomers who are more interested in health and nutrition,” commented Yii-Luoma, “and parents and their kids who are showing lots of interest in organics.” 

Evolving Demographics

The major shift in Canada’s overall demographic patterns—with more immigrants arriving from the Middle East and eastern and southern Asia—was reflected in responses as well.  The Chinese-Canadian population is expected to grow to 3 million by 2031 according to a government study, with South Asians and Indian-Canadians close behind; the Arab and West Asian population is the fastest growing, and could more than triple in that same period. 

“The Asian influence continues to have an impact, as they move into more markets,” observed Yii-Luoma.  “This isn’t just Chinese, but Korean, Japanese, East Indians, and Arabs.” 

Lemaire also noted this shift in the country’s “cultural mosaic,” explaining how more companies were forming ties to mainland China to meet the growing demand for products like fresh ginger.

Demographic drivers are also reflected in the Canadian approach to retail: while traditionally dominated by local chains and a few nationals, multinationals are making an increased push into the market, forcing the locals to adapt quickly to match demand. 

“Whole Foods continues to break ground on new stores, and every major retailer has an organic section,” notes Yii-Luoma, referencing the higher demand for organics cited by several respondents.  “The impact of yet another American retailer—Target—has everyone sharpening their approach to the customer; [but] the Canadian market is not as easy as it appears, given that we already have numerous and well-established discounters.”