“The main market for our produce is the East Coast,” Plante says. “The majority of our crops are similar to those from California. We have a similar climate that is good for growing field crops such as lettuce, broccoli, and cauliflower. The drought-related shortages in California have created an opportunity for us to increase our market share on the East Coast.”
With water issues in California a longer-term problem than too little rain or snow pack, as increases in demand for both residential and agricultural water tax the state’s aquifers and inadequate infrastructure, there exists a clear opportunity for the Montreal-Quebec region to boost its sales to the vastly populated East Coast region and its many grocery retailers, restaurants, and consumers.
An Export Hiccup
Even with the boon, not everyone is reaping all the rewards. More export sales are certainly good for the fresh produce supply chain, but fewer imports take their toll on transportation companies, who are bringing back trucks with less-than-truckload lots or empty.
Canada is also facing some self-imposed obstacles as well. According to Plante, growers are frustrated with recurring delays due to necessary inspections by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).
“Every year, they cut staff and we have more and more problems getting timely inspections. There’s a lot of pressure on growers to ship within 24 hours, but without CFIA inspections, we can’t send anything across the border,” Plante laments.
“This is impacting our potato crop, and we’re also struggling with getting timely phytosanitary inspections on commodities such as green onions and leeks. Conversely, because of a new regulation, there are more random farm inspections, while [CFIA personnel] are unable to perform crop inspections for exports,” Plante says.
Trends in Packaging
Packaging is a hot and growing trend both on the wholesale and retail side. Gosselin says precut, prewashed, and ready-to-eat-produce continues to gain in popularity, particularly in Quebec.
“Growers and stores are getting in on the trend,” Gosselin enthuses, “including new offerings with seasoned vegetables in microwavable bags. I think consumers want more fresh produce, but also want ease.”
The more urban-working Quebec crowd is a better target for prepared, packaged food. In Montreal, however, a significant ethnic population continues to buy bulk vegetables at smaller stores and neighborhood shops to prepare family favorites at home from scratch. Wholesalers such as Canadawide have a packaging division that caters to this trend, and provides produce packaging options to retailers.