Olga Vergeles: Canadian Supermarkets are Interested in Ukrainian Goods

The Parliament of Ukraine ratified the Canada Free Trade agreement on March, 14.Now, in order to become effective, the Agreement must be signed by the President of Ukraine, ratified by the Senate and signed by the Governor General of Canada. In a month after the ratification procedures are over the Canada-Ukraine Free Trade Agreement becomes a reality. According to experts, it may happen in summer, 2017.

Last year a Canada-Ukraine project for trade and investment support (CUTIS) was launched in order to help Ukrainian companies to enter the Canadian market. The Project is financed by the Canadian government and aims at technical assistance to Ukrainian exporters. propozitsiya.com learned from CUTIS Project Manager Olha Vergeles, what preferences Ukrainian exporters are going to get after the markets are open and in what goods Canadian customers are interested the most.

Who and how will CUTIS assist?

— We have a very good cooperation with the Ministry of Economy of Ukraine, in particular, the team of the trade representative of Ukraine, Natalia Mykolska and Export Promotion Office at the ministry. Together we support small and medium Ukrainian businesses that plan to enter the markets of Canada. Big holdings are capable of hiring consultants and prepare themselves for entering the market while small businesses often lack knowledge and they don’t know what to start from.

A study is currently underway, on the basis of which five groups of goods and services will be selected, that are of the most interest to Canada as imports from Ukraine. CUTIS will be looking for the producers of these goods and invite them to participate in the project. We have planned seminars and information sessions covering the most important export issues. We will also provide technical assistance on packaging, labeling, certification and, most of all, assist in searching for partners, organize meetings. According to our plan, Ukrainian companies will participate in trade shows and exhibitions in Canada.

How will the 5 groups of priority goods be selected?

— The selection will be done in 2 phases. We have analyzed the dynamics of Ukrainian exports to Canada and Canadian imports in general, in order to find out, which goods are being actively imported by Canada with positive trends during the recent 5 years and in which of these groups Ukrainian producers can compete.

We also looked at export opportunities of Ukraine and excluded the categories that are inaccessible for small and medium businesses. At this point, we have already selected 9 groups of goods and one group of services. The next step is to define five priorities. However, keeping in mind the fast dynamics of export markets, we are prepared to reconsider the five priorities. Apart from that, we always support anyone who wants to export to Canada, even if the goods are not part of the five priorities.

Will there be the goods of the food industry included?

Chocolate and confectionaries, as well as processed and canned fruit and vegetables, food processing equipment (refrigerators, flouring mills, packaging equipment) are already on the top-10 list. The final data on the priority groups will be available in April 2017.

Has CUTIS been frequently approached?

— Yes, we are very active online and tell a lot about Canadian market, using all possible resources. I obtain 2-3 requests from various companies on a daily basis. We have been approached by vegetable and fruit producers and well as gardening businesses. Among the frequently asked questions are: how to find a partner, what Canadian customers are looking for, etc.

We plan a Ukrainian trade mission to Canada in April. The group has been joined by frozen fruit and vegetable producers. They have already got international certification and are prepared to meet with representatives of Canadian retail chains.

How can one start cooperating with the project?

— For the beginning I kindly ask to send a brief information on a company (titles, web page, the range of products, certificates available, the scope of production) – this enables us to collect a company profile, which is included in our database. The applications should be sent to the email address office@cutisproject.org.

We receive requests from Canadian chains occasionally. E.g. we have been approached by Canadian companies interested in leading Ukrainian producers of fresh vegetables and frozen fruit.

Have there been any success stories yet?

— CUTIS co-organized a Ukrainian-Canadian forum in June 2016. 93 meetings took place during the Forum, resulting in 4 signed contracts. A pilot office of one Ukrainian company has been opened in Canada. A Ukrainian producer of birch sap met with the representatives of the biggest Canadian chain of supermarkets. They entered into contractual negotiations, including discussions of insurance and the range of products.

Only 4 contracts have been signed as a follow-up of the Forum. Why so few?

— This is a very good number if you take into account high requirements and conservatism of Canadian market. There are some problems with communication and compliance to product requirements. A lot of Ukrainian companies are not ready to export: they seem to show interest, they write about the advantages of their products, send presentations. However, when asked if they are ready to modify their business for exports, the businessmen realize that they are not prepared for it so far.

What are the three major requirements for the products?

— Certification, the required volumes, and terms of delivery are the main ones.

Is this feasible for the products to get straight on the shelves of supermarkets?

— It is quite feasible. But one should have patience. We’ve been working with a number of powerful chains. They file their requests with product groups. Ukrainian companies also have to be prepared to produce under the private label, when goods, produced in Ukraine, are sold under Canadian brand. It is quite profitable for a Ukrainian producer, for Canadians have little knowledge of our brands, whereas launching ad campaigns is very expensive and doesn’t guarantee further sales.

Indeed, there is a powerful diaspora, who buy Ukrainian goods in small stores, but this isn’t a big Canadian market. End buyers don’t know a lot about Ukrainian goods. Apart from that, in order to supply branded products, there need to be large volumes delivered, which is not always affordable to small and medium-sized producers.

Which products are of demand in Canadian supermarkets?

— Primarily, frozen berries and vegetables. Processing companies are interested in fresh vegetables for further production of mixes, salads, sandwiches. Apples are potentially interesting, but it comes down to the price and logistics because Canada gets apples from nearer countries resulting in their relatively lower prices. We’ve been talking to a Ukrainian company, that wants to enter Canadian market with its fresh vegetables. They are aware that, in order to make this happen, they need to have a logistics center in Canada, where the vegetables are packaged and quickly distributed among relevant stores. This option is sensible from the exports stand point because small producers can be engaged in forming big batches to Canada if they are dictated the technology of growth or production.
What should one be prepared for when planning exports to Canada?

— There is a false impression that, once the meeting took place, the contract can be signed in a month. Developed markets don’t work this way. Negotiations often last up to one year. Canadians are very conservative. They want to contact one specific person. They build relationships and communications slowly. To be honest, nobody is looking forward to seeing us in Canada. Therefore, we have to promote our products.

What are other main mistakes of new exporters?

— If a company visited a conference or a forum, it doesn’t mean that they are going to get a flow of clients and contracts right after. This will not happen. They have to visit a few more forums. And not just they visit but also fix appointments beforehand. Because, by the way, big Canadian chains will not pay attention to the proposal sent to a general office address, even if all relevant certificates are available.

Exports take time, resources and energy. The main mistakes are a lack of strategy and financial calculations. For example, juice producers, we have been taking care of, lower the price for the sake of entering the Canadian market. However, they do not guarantee exclusive terms. The common issue and the major factor of entering the Canadian market are the search of a partner and building mutual understanding.

What are the specificities of Canadian business culture?

— Conservatism. Digital tools commonly used here are not so widespread there. And not because they cannot afford them, but because a telephone is a tool for conversation and nothing more. Therefore, during a business meeting, people don’t exchange email addresses to make things faster. Rather, a Canadian businessman comes back to his office, opens his mailbox and gets to your message, probably, the next day. If the information isn’t given in appropriate format, he will not open the file at all.

There are specific standards involved. Thus, you either follow them or you’re out. If a company has certain proposal review procedure, it will not make any exceptions. These are the things Ukrainians do not understand, because they think, “hey, they are Ukrainians too, so we always find common ground”. It all goes in a profound and consistent way, step by step, as it is supposed to be. This is a major difference and the first thing that needs to be considered. Nobody is going to meet with you without preliminary arrangements made, without company information and presentation.

Why is it worth to export to Canada

— This country depends on its imports, which comprise 31% of Canada’s GDP. The National diversity of Canada is also an advantage. Every 5th citizen of Canada was born outside the country. On top of that, Canada is a regional hub, from which one can enter the markets of the US and Mexico.

What advantages is the Free Trade Agreement going to bring?

— Canada provides full and instant access to its markets, which is zero custom rate for most of the goods. However, some of the goods will be subject to quotas. Ukraine will go through gradual liberalization process – 3 to 7 years. Ukraine will also use tariff quotas for some goods, in particular, for frozen pork and lard. Sugar is excluded from the terms of the Agreement.

The Agreement provides for the Parties to work towards mutual recognition of accreditation authorities. In medium terms this means that Canada acknowledges Ukrainian accreditation authority (National Accreditation Agency of Ukraine) and a Ukrainian producer doesn’t need to go through more expensive certification in Canada.

The Agreement contains provisions on public procurement. Canada spends almost CAD 15 billion on procurement and Ukrainian companies will become eligible to participate.

How will the quotas be administered?

— Limitations are applied to wheat, barley, poultry, dairy produce, eggs, cheese, and sugar. It applies to all countries, not just Ukraine, though. Some quotas are not taken up. For instance, only 54% of dry milk whey quota was taken up in 2015 marketing year. Within the quota, 0% duty rate is applied. The specificity of Canada is the responsibility for imports, including the quality of goods, getting a license to supply within the tariff quota, taken by the importer. Even if the goods are shipped with violations or don’t comply with customs regulations, all the fines and penalties will be charged on the importer. Therefore, when a Ukrainian importer finds a partner in Canada, the latter will tell him about all the details because he is primarily interested in having the goods complied with all the requirements and no violations. Administering quotas is also a responsibility of an importer.

As far as margarine, wheat and barley are concerned, it works on “first come – first served” basis. For other goods limited by quotas, a preliminary distribution principle applies, i.e. one need to get the right to supply product within the quota by filing a respective application. This is within the authority of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Canada.

Do European exporters use the resource of the Еxport help desk. Is there any similar resource in Canada?

— Using the resource of Automatic Importing Reference System, by the code of goods (4 digits) you can get all the compliance requirements for agricultural produce. It is worth pointing out the purpose of imports: participation in trade shows, sales. All this information is available on the web pages of Canadian state control authorities.

Are there any special requirements to packaging and labeling?

— They frequently forget that food product should be labeled in two languages, with none of the language given the priority, i.e. fonts and lay-outs should be equal. An interesting detail: an expiry date is put in a “reverse” order as for Ukraine: year, month and date. There is a list of acronyms of months – the mix of English and French. As far as the indication of the country of origin, there is a list of produce (wine, dairy produce, honey, fish, meat, eggs, fruit, and vegetables) which must contain this indication.

— Developed countries practice responsible consumption. Is this relevant to Canada too?

— 60% of Canadians consider themselves responsible consumers and over quarter of them are prepared to pay for additional environmental and social benefits, such as: equal employment opportunities for women, equal pay, no adverse environmental impact. Right environmental labeling can inform the consumer of the advantages.

Is organic produce also popular?

Canadian organic market is the world’s top fifth – around $5 billion. The best-sold produce are fresh fruit and vegetables. The volumes of Canadian organic imports are constantly growing. Thus, 20 million Canadians report buying organic food on a weekly basis. They are prepared to pay a higher price for organic produce. The margin may reach 90-300%. The biggest margins can be obtained on organic juices and yogurts. It is important to note, that American organic certificate is also valid in Canada.

How much will the exports grow after the market is open?

— We will not see the instant growth of exports in 2017 because of the specificity of Canadian business mentality and unpreparedness of Ukrainian companies to supply big volumes. Ukrainian counterparts will most likely become more active. At least a year is required to have a substantial shift.