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Canadians on Canada

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

These demographic shifts can also impact factors like transportation time.  “An increase in ethnic commodities from Central and South America and the Caribbean makes a difference in how we buy,” explains Rubini.  “The shelf life of these commodities is very short, so on-time deliveries are even more critical.” 

Other Variants

Other factors, cited by almost 20 percent of survey participants, will seem extremely familiar to American businesses, such as weather conditions, labor issues, fuel costs, and supply chain management. 

“One of the biggest challenges on the horizon is the changing level of quality, knowledgeable labor from all areas of the supply chain,” says Lemaire, “from field to packing house and from transportation to the retail floor.”  He also mentioned product sourcing, traceability, and an increased focus on food safety at the federal level concerning the increasingly complex requirements Canadian retailers must follow to meet market demands.

Some respondents even perceived a fundamental difference in the buying habits of American and Canadian consumers.  “In the United States, bigger is better,” says Milette. “That’s not true for us; in Canada, we feel smaller fruits are of equal quality and taste, and most of the time, they’re much more affordable.  The end result is that consumers get more fruit for their money.”

This ‘perception gap’ extends not only to consumers, but to retailers, shippers, brokers, and receivers as well, and the ‘bigger is better’ phenomenon cuts across all aspects of the cross-border trade.  As many as 15 percent of respondents cited a fundamental difference in the degree of competition within the business climate of the two countries.

“I believe the Canadian produce industry is a little more lenient and a little less competitive than the United States,” says Rubini.  “As much as Canada does have some pretty tough competition, in the United States, it is much tougher.  Receivers are ready to ‘claim’ or charge back for service failures much more quickly than Canadian companies.  I’ve had carriers [in the U.S.] stuck in snowstorms charged back a $200 late fee by receivers.”

As intimidating as all these factors can be, they shouldn’t be seen as a barrier to reaching out across the border.  The majority of participants believed the disparities between the American and Canadian produce industries were truly minimal, and our member/experts agreed they were easily overcome with the proper diligence. 

“In my experience,” explained Larry Davidson, vice president of the aptly-named North American Produce Buyers Ltd. in Toronto, “if you can do business in America, you can do business in Canada.”