How to sell organics to Canada

In August, a year has elapsed since the conclusion of the Free Trade Agreement with Canada. Among other things, this offers great opportunities for exporting organic products. 

It is most expedient to export organic processed products to Canada, while paying attention to territorial features, national standards, as well as tariff and non-tariff restrictions.

Canadian organic goods market is the fifth largest in the world. It is outweighed by China and France. And yet, it is also geographically close to the leader in the consumption of organics in the world – the United States. As to the cost volume of the Canadian organic market, it is worth EUR 3 billion. This is an interesting market opportunity. With regard to the volume of consumption, statistics show that people living in these two countries spend most money on organic products per year. For the US market, it is €121 per year, and Canada is slightly less than €83 per person annually.

As of 2017, the sales of organic products in Canada amounted to 4.2 million CAD. Interestingly, organic foods and drinks constitute the bulk of this market – about 90%. In particular, these are fresh vegetables and fruits (40%), beverages (13%), dairy products, eggs (12%), cereals, pasta, bread (9%). Despite the fact that the country is a powerful producer of organic products itself, its output is not enough. As of 2016, for example, 0.2 million tons of organic products were imported for the total of 637 million CAD. This is much more than produced within the country, which means a shortage and a market opportunity for Ukrainian producers. Of course, the Canadian government is trying to motivate domestic production: in 2017, the Canadian provinces of Manitoba and British Columbia launched significant farmer support programs, so the gap between supply and demand will gradually decrease over time. It is now quite a good time, however, to start exporting to this market.

Quite interestingly, Canada has become one of the first countries to track organic exports and imports. In particular, imports are tracked by 65 categories in a specialized system, while exports are represented in 18 categories. If you look at the imports statistics for the TOP-20 positions, organic coffee, bananas, strawberries, green salads, tomatoes and tomato paste, etc. are the most popular organic products.

Useful statistics are provided by the Canada Organic Trade Association (COTA) concerning a typical organic purchaser in Canada in order to direct producers towards their consumers, which can be both male and female (traditional purchases are usually made by both spouses), of a younger age (18-34 years old), a city dweller, with the greatest interest in organic produce among residents of British Columbia or Alberta. However, these provinces are not the most populated, and Quebec and Ontario should not be disregarded. There is also correlation between the level of income, education and activity in the organic market: people with higher earnings, therefore, are more aware of the details of organic products and more willing to pay for them. Also, families with children are more inclined to spend money on organic products, so organic food and goods for children is a very promising niche as well.

Regarding the regulation of the Canadian organic market, it also significantly differs from the Ukrainian and European approaches. Canada has national organic standards. As of today, the industry is guided by Canada Organic Regulations adopted in 2009. More detailed requirements for the manufacture and the list of permitted substances are provided by CAN/CGSB 32.310-2015 standards – Organic Production Systems – General Management Principles and Standards, CAN/CGSB 32.311-2015 – Organic Production Systems – List of Permitted Substances. However, Canada goes today through an active phase of deregulation; in June, a new regulatory act was published which combines more than 10 legislative acts and is called Regulation on Safe Food for Canadians. Likewise, it deals with organic products. A review of the above standards is scheduled for 2020. Therefore, it is important for organic producers to keep abreast, since the situation is changing quite dynamically. Certified organic products sold in Canada must bear the Canada Organic logo.

A separate topic is sanitary and phytosanitary regulations. If you use the “organic” prefix for the product, this does not mean a complete grace as a series of stringent requirements is applied anyway. Interestingly enough, the requirements for a particular food product in Canada can be traced back to the Automated Import Reference System (AIRS), which is something like the well-known European Export Help Desk.

With regard to the harmonization of certain sanitary and phytosanitary regulations and certificates, the wheel has set to motion only concerning chicken meat. For all other categories of quarantinable goods (such as beef, pork, eggs), the problems remain. Accordingly, if the business begins to demonstrate interest in the Canadian market the process will begin to harmonize those certificates between the governing bodies. Also, the ban on import of Ukrainian grain and wheat into Canada continues, because pests were found in the imports of one of the corn suppliers, and a precautionary measure was immediately taken. Therefore, there is a need for additional communication of state authorities to make this ban lifted.

With regard to dairy products, the principle of protection of domestic producers is applied, and there is a high import tariff for imported goods. Therefore, the opportunities for Ukrainian producers including organic manufacturers are limited in this segment. On the one hand, it would seem that with such a list of restrictions is not worth trying to supply to this market. Those looking for opportunities, however, will necessarily find them. Although Canada is far, for supplying the processed goods even logistics will not be a financial constraint. Moreover, there are significantly lower requirements for processed goods. Therefore, it is logical to recommend manufacturers of processed organic products to commence sales on this market. The most popular products are juices, confectionery products, dried and frozen vegetables, sauces, ketchup, vegetable oils and snacks.