Opinion: the key drivers of Canada's fruit & veggie habits
By Dawn Gray Global Consulting founder and president Dawn E Gray
Canadians consume more fruits and veggies than their neighbors to the south, and that fact is backed up by numerous statistical surveys that are frankly too appetite-killing to wade through. So why would that be? Canada is a smaller country at just over 33 million with four fifths of the population living within 93 miles of the U.S. border. Think the size of California. Demographically speaking we are very similar to our American brethren with just over 80%, of an albeit much smaller population, living in urban areas.
Weighing up consumption
Measuring consumption of fruits and veggies is tricky; is consuming fresh juice considered in the measurement ? Is it as simple as availability? Statistics Canada reported that total Canadian fresh fruit availability was 161lbs per capita compared to 126lbs of fruit reported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Consumption of fruit was recorded at 86.6lbs per Canuck versus 54.8lbs for our American neighbors. Okay how about veggies then? Consumption in Canada was 89.7lbs versus 79lbs south of the 49th parallel. Just to give you a sense of how odd these measurements can be, for some reason the august bodies that gather these statistics exclude potatoes; it appears to have a lot to do with how potatoes are processed.
Perhaps it is our history and relative youth. Canada could certainly be viewed as a younger country, by 90 years, so if we think of generations of cultural influence we are four generations closer to our home country roots, primarily European but that is changing quickly. Canada has one of the highest per capita immigration rates in the world.
It would appear this cultural mix is a key driver in fresh fruit and vegetable consumption. Canada’s harsher weather does not lend itself to producing the volume and variety grown in the U.S. By necessity importing fresh produce is the historical norm, bringing with it a global fruit and veggie basket that provides a plethora of taste and texture for what is an adventurous palate. If the U.S. is a melting pot perhaps Canada would be better described as a mosaic - a little clearer and sharper around the edges yet with our cultural and ethnic mix. This certainly plays out when looking at the variety on display in Canada’s 24,000 retail food stores. Litchi and baby bok choy are not considered speciality items - you can find them right alongside the apples and romaine lettuce.
When the 5- a Day program launched in the U.S. in 1991 there were some riotous discussions from the Canadian wholesalers and retailers who cried, "But that would promote 'a decrease' from what we are eating now." So in true nicely northern form we quietly promoted 5 to 10 a day, recently changed to Mix it UP.
Having had the opportunity to live, cook and shop and market produce around the globe we Canadians do appear to be closer to our European and Asian roots both in our offerings and how we like to buy. It is much more common to find a green grocer offering in Canada’s urban centers, and shopping for fresh produce several times a week is considered quite normal.
Food trends are changing with aging baby-boomers looking to get on the road to wellness through their diet, which certainly bodes well for continued increases. However along with that comes an increased desire for convenience and a focus on flavor. Simply making it available will not be sustainable long term. We want variety, flavor and simplicity. And we want 'you' to provide it to us. Bon Appétit .. off to get my 5 to 10 a day.