Immigration brings new opportunities

Ethnic strategies needed | Canadian food markets poised to expand to cater to new populations and different palates

TORONTO — The changing face of Canada represents a $5 billion opportunity for enterprising producers.

Bernice Cheung, ethnic practice lead for Nielsen Canada, said studies show one in three people in Canada will be a visible minority by 2031.

She told the Salon international de l’alimentation (SIAL) food trade show here April 30 that the wave of new immigrants will be dominated by people from countries such as China, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka who could settle in Alberta and Quebec, currently the fastest growing provinces.

This switch from past immigration patterns, which included mainly Europeans, could spell business opportunities if included in business plans.

“Whether it’s a rain shower or a storm has to do with how well you prepare for it,” she said of dealing with the changing marketplace.

“The opportunity is in your hands to develop an ethnic strategy now.… This is only the tip of the iceberg.”

She advised carefully considering new immigrants’ shopping habits.

“You have to understand their preferences and behaviours before you can win them over,” Cheung said.

Many will be well educated and better informed about buying choices, meaning product labelling will be important. They will be younger with more children and their households will include elders who are also involved in buying decisions.

For example, Cheung said Asians frequent mainstream and ethnic stores, buying items for the same day’s meal.

“Instead of one shopping trip on weekends, it might be a few trips,” said Cheung.

That contrasts with North American shoppers who shop less frequently and stock their shelves.

Many newcomers view shopping as a family outing, seeking out sampling opportunities before buying and regarding organics as safer than traditionally grown products. They equate brand names with higher quality, but their lower incomes may drive them toward discounted items, she added.

Two Manitoba entrepreneurs who immigrated to Canada hope their food products hold appeal for newcomers.

Meshack Kusa, chief executive officer of Yomm Beverages, said many may already be familiar with the hibiscus found in his drinks, tea and dried flowers.

The three-year-old company imports the flower from Africa, Kusa’s homeland, and processes its products in Manitoba.

Yomm is currently sold in ethnic markets, including Asian, African and Indian stores in Winnipeg as well as health food stores.

“We are trying to step our toe in,” said Kusa, who would also like to eventually include prairie-grown fruit such as sour cherries, lingonberries and black currants.

Mila Maximets, president of Solberry sea buckthorn purees, said Canada’s standards of manufacturing appeal to the international crowd.

“Canada’s brand is appealing. It represents quality and high standards,” she said.

Maximets said her product can be incorporated into many foods. The purees are used by chefs and consumers in recipes and appeal to the health conscious because of their high anti-oxidant content.

She said the sea buckthorn varieties grown by Solberry’s Manitoba growers were developed at the research farm in Indian Head, Sask., and differ from varieties she grew up with in Russia. They are hardy shrubs that grow well in dryland climates and produce bigger, sweeter and thicker skinned fruit.

Bison is another prairie product that could appeal to newcomers, said Terry Kremeniuk, executive director of the Canadian Bison Association.

“Bison can be prepared in many ways to suit the palate of wherever these new Canadians are from,” he said.

“People want something unique and something different and bison is always an option.”

He said one strategy for appealing to ethnic markets has already been tried by his group: a cookbook featuring bison recipes with a Mediterranean twist.

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