Food promotions should not be necessary — but they are

Canadians are realizing in an unprecedented way the value of Canada’s food systems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friends and family are regularly discussing where their food comes from, at least in my circles.

The desire to “shop local” has moved out of urban hipsterville and into the mainstream as folks realize the importance of buying food coming from Canada.

Hand in hand with that realization is another lesson being learned by millions of people: that Canada’s food supply chain is pretty secure.

Despite challenges, some of which are ongoing, grocery store shelves have largely remained stocked throughout the past three months of COVID-19 disruptions.

Seeing this shift in my own circles made me think it was odd efforts are still being poured into ensuring the general public is aware of just how good we have it in Canada when it comes to food.

That’s the goal of a recent campaign launched by the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity (CCFI).

The “It’s Good, Canada” campaign was created, according to its spiffy new website, to “celebrate the work of everyone involved in Canada’s food system and to show that our system is designed with a single purpose in mind: to ensure good quality food makes its way to the plates of all Canadians and families around the world.”

Kudos to the folks behind this campaign for capitalizing on a ready-made teachable moment brought on by the pandemic, but it is a shame such a campaign is still needed.

Given the recent circumstances and strains supply chains have endured, you would think Canadians would give Canada’s food systems a bit more credit and show a willingness to support the industry.

But despite many Canadians realizing throughout the pandemic the strength and security of our food systems, it’s clear such a campaign is indeed needed.

A 2019 study from CCFI found only one in three Canadian consumers believe Canada’s food system is headed in the right direction. Rising food costs and accessing affordable healthy food remain top concerns.

Perhaps the pandemic has shifted those sentiments in a more positive direction, but a campaign like “It’s Good, Canada” can only help.

What is still to be determined is how much effect this and other similar campaigns will have on improving public sentiments.

Meanwhile,the most notable or at least the most expensive campaign promoting Canadian food is one being led by the federal government.

Ottawa is planning to spend $1.5 to $4 million a year, over five years, on a buy Canadian promotional campaign.

“The campaign should tell the story of Canada’s agri-food sector and reach audiences on an emotional level in order to instil pride and confidence in the country’s food systems,” reads one part of a contract notice posted by the federal government in January to find a company to design and launch the program.

But some within the federal Ministry of Agriculture hint that project is being delayed. There was some expectation it would launch this summer, but the search for a private company to execute the campaign is ongoing.

There remains a smattering of regional campaigns promoting Canadian food, many of which are funded by provinces.

At a time when so many Canadians are waking up to the strength of Canada’s agricultural industry, it’s a shame such programs are still needed.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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