Program rolling out in coming months.
By Brett Ruffell
A “Buy Canadian” advertising campaign focusing on local food and the national agricultural system will be rolling out in the coming months, the federal government said Tuesday.
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada officially began seeking bids for a firm to design and implement the multimillion-dollar campaign earlier this week, according to a document posted on the department’s website.
Agriculture Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, meanwhile, issued a statement confirming the general aim of the campaign that’s expected to roll out this summer.
“We are investing $25 million to the “Buy Canadian” campaign to build consumer confidence and pride in Canada’s food producers and highlight the advantages of their products,” Bibeau said. “Consumers in Canada can be extremely proud of Canadian producers, who continue to innovate to meet the growing demand for food, while finding solutions to challenges such as environmental sustainability.”
The request for proposal, which gives interested companies until Feb. 18 to submit a pitch, indicates the government is committing to a five-year “social marketing” campaign to give Canadians a better understanding of the country’s agriculture system and educate them on what constitutes Canadian food. The successful bidder will be hired for a year ending next March, with the possibility of extending the contract for up to three more years.
The document lays out short and long-term goals for the project, stating the first priority is to raise awareness of the standards and practices at play in the Canadian agricultural sector. The intermediate goal involves making it easier for Canadians to identify domestic products, leading to the ultimate goal of urging residents to seek and identify more food, seafood and agri-food products when shopping.
The government proposes spending between $1.5 million and $4 million a year on media advertising for the campaign, which will use digital platforms as the primary means of communication.
“The campaign should tell the story of Canada’s agri-food sector and reach audiences on an emotional level in order to instill pride and confidence in the country’s food systems,” the document reads, stressing that particular effort should be made to connect with historically “under-represented groups” such as women, seniors, Indigenous Canadians and official language minority groups.
“Consumers in Canada can be extremely proud of Canadian producers.”
The request for proposal indicates the successful bidder will need to be mindful of provincial efforts to promote their own fresh, local offerings, but does not provide any specific guidance.
That potential conflict is one of many reasons why at least one industry observer views the government campaign with skepticism.
Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of Dalhousie University’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab, said discussions around food have always been complex due to a fundamental tension between the two government ministries with a stake in the issue.
While Health Canada focuses on nutrition through efforts such as the recently retooled Canada’s Food Guide, Charlebois said Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has traditionally concentrated more on economic development and sector growth.
As a result, he said, conversations around Canadian food tend to focus either on health benefits or financial cost, but rarely incorporate both.
The request for proposal appears to acknowledge as much, noting that “cost and nutritional value still rank higher in consumers’ decision-making” before outlining its vision for the “Buy Canadian” campaign.
Charlebois also said that several provincial governments have run successful promotional efforts for decades, citing Foodland Ontario and Prince Edward Island’s Canada’s Food Island as notable examples.
“There’s a legacy there that needs to be recognized,” he said. “Provinces have actually been doing this for a very long time, so for the feds to come into the game of promoting local foods all of a sudden could actually create some confusion.”
But Charlebois foresees other complications as well, including a failure to clearly define what Canadian food truly means.
He said the request for proposal makes no mention of whether Canadian food processors will be included in the effort, noting such facilities also make significant contributions to the domestic economy.
The agriculture department said food producers and processors would both be included in the scope of the new campaign, adding provincial promotional efforts would not be overlooked.
“We are committed to working with our counterparts at the provincial level to ensure that efforts under the ‘Buy Canadian’ Promotional Campaign complement existing initiatives,” the department said in a statement.