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Opportunities and challenges follow demographic changes

Immigration is feeding the Canadian population, but agribusiness needs to figure out what is feeding immigrants

Jean-Phillipe Gervais, chief agricultural economist for Farm Credit Canada speaks at the GrowCanada conference in Calgary.

The face of Canada is changing — or more correctly, the faces of Canada are changing.

“Canada is rapidly moving from being a white country to becoming a brown country,” Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, told attendees at the recent GrowCanada conference in Calgary.

And that’s something that should get those in agriculture and agribusiness thinking, he said.

“What are you doing for these consumers?” Bricker asked, noting in recent years 300,000 new immigrants have been arriving in Canada annually, only three per cent of whom are refugees.

Forty years ago the most immigrants came from the United Kingdom and the United States. Now the Philippines, followed by India and China, are Canada’s leading sources of new citizens.

Push model over

Jean-Phillipe Gervais, chief agricultural economist for Farm Credit Canada, agrees it’s important to determine what products and even staple foods are wanted by newcomers.

“We need to talk about the consumer, because quite frankly the supply chain model is totally different that what it was 20 years ago and even 10 years ago,” Gervais said. “Before we had a push model… ‘this is what I have on the farm right now, I’m gonna bring it to the market, I’m gonna ask what it’s worth… and the processors, the buyers are gonna take it to the consumer.’”

Not so today. Now the marketplace is seeing a pull model.

“The consumer is really making known what their preferences are, and retailers are relaying this to processors, and processors to farmers and producers,” he said.

And those preferences often depend on the types of food common in their country of origin. Given that immigration is heavily weighted towards Asian and South Asian countries at the moment, Bricker notes this will have a particular effect on the dairy industry.

Dairy challenges

Even a quick Google search can demonstrate the issue faced by milk producers,” Bricker said.

“I typed in ‘Asian cuisine and cow’s milk,’ you know what came up? Nothing. Why? Asian cultures do not consume milk as a beverage.”

Increasing, cultural diversity is also changing the tastes of established Canadians of British and French descent as people try new foods and discover they enjoy them.

However, Canada’s population isn’t just getting more diverse, it’s also getting older.

Bricker notes that by 2015, Canada will have more senior citizens than youth, something else that doesn’t bode well for Canada’s dairy industry.

“We realize now that most calcium needs and other things that an elderly population will consume, are found in substitute products,” said Gervais. “Dairy is going to go through some really important industrial changes, — I mean that domestic consumption is going to change and they will have to react; I think they have started to realize that.”

Bricker said these demographic changes will also lead to opportunities, such as developing alternatives for Canadians who now prefer rice.

And with women living five years longer on average than men, meeting their needs could prove lucrative as well.

“So anyone in the commercial grocery sector — what are you doing for elderly women living alone?” asked Bricker. “They are going to be a very interesting consumer segment to focus on.”

But even with boomers tipping the scales in purchasing power, generation Y can’t be ignored either. Gervais noted that that younger demographic has its own tastes and trends that affect food choices, including a growing interest in organics.

But overall, more needs to be done to determine where future growth will be in the food market and how farmers can meet consumer needs, he said.

“I don’t think we know exactly what our aging population and a more ethnically diverse population in Canada is going to really want,” Gervais added.

About the author


Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.



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