Is national pride the “Trump card” for farm marketing in Canada?

Farmers are among the many Canadians who could feel the economic squeeze of a trade war with the United States. Near Guelph, however, one culinary activist predicts the surge of patriotism across Canada might actually be good for farm marketing in this country.

Order of Canada recipient Anita Stewart has a Canadian culinary pedigree among the finest ever. She forecasts an emergence of national pride in food as an unintended result of escalating trade tensions and tariffs applied by the U.S. government. We know the latent potential is there; we’ve seen it in the surge in sales for French’s Ketchup when they chose to use Ontario tomatoes in the wake of Heinz closing up shop in Leamington in 2014.

“Canadians really are pretty polite and even quite diplomatic,” Stewart told me from her home in Elora. “But we profoundly despise lies, particularly when our farmers and manufacturers are the targets.” She predicts we’ll respond with a fervour typically reserved for international ice hockey if Canadians believe their agricultural icons, such as dairy, poultry, cheese, and eggs, are under attack.

As Stewart told my friend and agri-food columnist Owen Roberts, “It’s time for Canadians to celebrate and honour our own, to become more food literate with one simple goal – culinary sovereignty.”  

If you can’t find the silver lining, you make one

When it comes to bolstering Canadians in the face of economic adversity, Stewart knows her stuff. Back in 2003, the country was engulfed by the strangling economics of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, colloquially known as ‘mad cow disease’. Communities were devastated. Beef farmers were going out of business.

But as Stewart notes, it was an economic disaster that did not become a culinary disaster. She rallied the beef industry, media, chefs, the University of Guelph, key decision-makers and sponsors – as well as thousands of Canadian consumers – and created the World’s Longest Barbecue. She called on Canadians to support their beef sector by grilling homegrown steaks and burgers at 6 pm on the Saturday of the August long weekend.

By doing so, she became largely responsible for helping change the course of pride in Canadian food.

A day to celebrate Canadian cuisine

The BBQ reverberated across Canada and beyond. Ultimately, still driven by Stewart, it went on to become Food Day Canada, promoting and celebrating the outstanding ingredients of our nation, as well as the people involved in putting such deliciousness onto Canadians’ plates – not only livestock producers but fruit and vegetable producers too.

Food Day Canada’s goal is to ensure that for at least one day of the year it will be impossible for any Canadian consumer to ignore the culinary and agricultural talent that is part of our collective story. On August 4, restaurants from British Columbia to Newfoundland will participate in this festival of local flavours.

Stewart has relentlessly campaigned to have the August holiday weekend officially tied to Canadian food and agriculture. So far, Ottawa has been cool to the idea. However, Bill C-281, first introduced in 2015 to declare a national local food day, has resurfaced this spring and could change all that.

Are you ready to ride the surge in maple-friendly farm marketing?

Anyone who markets food knows, as is the case with many commodities, consumers want to put local first. Economics, however, often dictate our approach to produce shopping, and we tend to buy what’s least expensive. But even the deepest set pragmatism might take a back seat to a rise in patriotism if the current mood continues.

Want to climb aboard the Red-and-White bandwagon and sell more food? Keep Canadiana top of mind, and remind your consumers this is your home and native land, too. In today’s Canada, patriots are in good company.

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