Catering to Canadians

Canada and U.S. differences impacting your business

In a recent interview Mehmood Khan, the chief scientific officer of Pepsico, said, “Up until 2005 or 2006, our industry grew very successfully with a tried formula. Have great brands, do a lot of refresh research, create a new flavour, new colour, go around the world, launch the same product, and make it aspirational, and you grew. [Then] things started changing over the last decade. Consumers became more aware, had more knowledge, started asking more questions, and culturally relevant products started to become even more important.”

When it comes to the U.S. and Canada, our countries and our people are neighbours – close friends even – but we are different cultures. Petramala and Gulati, in TD Economics 2013, said, “despite similar cultures and languages, Canadian and U.S. consumers are quite different.”

From a recent JWT Canada study, we know Canada is emerging as a smarter and bolder country.  Millennials are driving our pride upwards and championing our quality of life. We are more confident, more grown up, more willing to lead, more optimistic and more proud to be Canadian.

Scott Megginson of Millward Brown has spoken and written about the risks a company takes when fast adapting commercials from the U.S. to Canada. Canadians have different values. We don’t need celebrities, but appreciate nostalgia and vignettes. According to Megginson, one third of U.S. ads are not as effective and half are not as enjoyable here.

Food is no different. Internal and external consultants recommend harmonization to cut costs and improve the bottom line. But what happens when Canadians don’t like the U.S. versions of their favourite products? If a product is launched successfully in the U.S., it’s not safe to assume Canadian consumers will like it and buy it too.

ACCE International is witness to the fact consumers do not approve of at least half of harmonization attempts and only 5% of U.S. products actually win over their Canadian equivalent.  Canadians like different flavour profiles, different textures and different ethnic-inspired flavours.

In addition to flavour and texture, it is not uncommon for the U.S. formula to have inferior nutritional content to the Canadian formulation.  It becomes a risky ethical compromise to harmonize such formulas and bring poorer nutritional products to Canada.

Perhaps what we should be doing is teaching other countries how to live, what to value, how to get along and how to eat.  Instead of sitting back and taking what is forced upon us, we should turn it around and apply what Bono said, “I believe the world needs more Canada.”

In 2015, understand, strategize and innovate for your Canadian consumers as a unique culture, who expect only the best in flavour, texture and nutrition from Canadian manufacturers.


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