Customers snap up Canadian oats

Consumers around the world continue to develop healthy appetites for Canadian-grown oats.

The Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA) said exports of Canadian oats continue to show strong growth, particularly in target nations including Mexico and Japan.

During the April 8 annual general meeting of the Alberta Oat Growers Commission, Dawn Popescul, interim executive director with POGA, said Canadian oat exports to Mexico and Japan are rising.

Export volumes to the two nations are on pace to reach their highest levels ever.

“The Alberta commission, through POGA, is focusing on market development in targeted countries,” said Popescul.

“Through this, we are continuing to see growth in the Mexican market as more and more households there are connecting with oat recipes and information through social media.”

POGA began a marketing campaign in Mexico in 2014. It used social media channels and online resources to stir interest in oats as a healthy, appetizing and nutritious food source.

Since then, Canadian oat exports to Mexico have skyrocketed, increasing to an average of more than 200,000 tonnes annually over the past three years, up from around 50,000 annually when the campaign was launched.

In 2019, Canadian oats commanded an estimated 90 percent of the market share for oats and oat products consumed in Mexico.

In 2020, year-to-date exports to Mexico as of last November were in the range of 220,000 tonnes and were on pace to set an all-time record.

A promotional website developed by POGA for Mexican consumers is generating 2.5 million hits per month, said Popescul.

“It has been a very successful campaign and we’ve made great strides there,” she said.

“If the (export) trend continues — and it appears that it has — it looks like 2020 (will be recorded as) the largest year ever” for Canadian oats in Mexico.

Encouraged by the success of the campaign in Mexico, POGA is setting its sights on other countries, including Japan, which is the fourth largest importer of oats globally.

Canada is already the biggest supplier of pony oats to Japanese buyers. Australia continues to hold an edge over Canada for processed and packaged oat products.

POGA recently launched a promotional campaign in Japan aimed at increasing Japanese oat consumption and expanding Canadian sales.

Canadian oat exports to Japan registered a year-over-year increase of 25 percent in 2019 and commanded a 53 percent market share.

“The export numbers here are indicating that 2020 is set to be the biggest year ever for Canadian exports to Japan,” Popescul said.

In China, the fastest growing oat market in the world, challenges still exist.

“Unfortunately, due to the political situation between Canada and China … the effort to secure access for raw oats is still on hold,” Popescul said.

“However, POGA is committed to continuing work in China when it’s politically feasible to do so, and let’s hope that happens soon.”

In the meantime, the association is taking steps to increase oat consumption in Canada.

Last year, it secured funding from Agriculture Canada to launch a social media marketing campaign to promote greater consumption of oats and oats products. Results have been encouraging.

“This project started in September (2020) and initial results are surpassing all of our expectations,” Popescul said.

“It appears Canadians are very keen on oats and there is a strong interest in basic oatmeal and in the many other products that oats can be made into.”

With Mexico now established as a rapidly growing market for Canadian oats, POGA said the proposed rail merger involving Canadian Pacific Railway and Kansas City Southern Railway will result in a “great advantage” for Canadian shippers of product.

The merger would create a continental rail network that reaches key points in Canada, the United States and Mexico and offers greater service to stakeholders in Canada’s oat supply chain.

The United States is Canada’s largest export market for oats. Canadian growers also supply more than 90 percent of the oats and oat products consumed in Mexico.

“Producers need an efficient, competitive and reliable transportation system if we are to meet customer demands,” said POGA chair Jenneth Johanson.

“This expanded rail service will provide increased market access for Western Canadian oats and will improve efficiencies through single line service, fewer interchanges and more direct routes to customers.

“Mexico is one of our critical markets with 2021 expected to be another record year for exports,” Johanson added.

More details on the proposed rail merger can be found here.

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