Selling Canada’s food into Asia and the Middle East

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Asia is often discussed as an overall emerging market for Canadian food. In the Southeast Asia area, there are countries with a growing middle class that are important trading partners. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) represents 10 countries with a population of 600 million. The top ASEAN destinations for Canadian food products are Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia. Thailand and Vietnam also are significant trading partners. Canadian exports to ASEAN areas that represent the bulk of commodity trade are wheat and meslin (which is a grain mixture that can be made into flour) and accounts for 43.5 per cent of exports followed by soybeans, prepared animal feed, frozen pork and fresh or chilled pork.

As the demographics change within ASEAN countries, a new demand is growing for halal products and health food products. The emerging middle class is asking for organic food, and increasing consumption of fish and meat. As many inhabitants are used to bargaining in outdoor markets, the emergence of processed meats is a sign of prestige, although traditional cooks still prefer to use fresh ingredients. Traditional cooks will however bend the rules for special sweet drinks.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country with 240 million people scattered over 11,000 inhabited islands. It imports a tremendous amount of rice and noodles, but has a keen interest in Canadian dessert mixes, yogurt, breakfast cereal, and baking. The importation of prepared baby food is expected to increase by 72 per cent which is reflective of the modern mother’s ability to buy baby food with her middle-class status. Vegetable oil and margarine are also popular products as are all sweet snacks and table condiments. For Saskatchewan farmers, Indonesia is a growing destination for dry beans, peas, pulses and lentils.

The growth in the Philippines is more subdued than in Indonesia, as the 95 million consumers traditionally are more frugal. They prefer to import sweet snacks and have a growing interest in dairy and bakery products as well as oils and frozen food. The largest area of import growth by more than 44 per cent is in dried pasta and red meat, including Canadian beef. This is rivalled only by canned meat sales which are expected to increase by 46 per cent. On the other side of the huge growth in all things canned are fresh organic products of which the wealthy have an intense interest. As a symbol of status, organic foods are sought by high-income consumers.

Thailand is a busy place and the lifestyle reflects the new export possibilities to this country of 70 million. They prefer packaged food and ready meals even in remote areas. As with the other ASEAN countries, Thailand likes to import dairy products, sweet snacks, baking, sauces and condiments, dried foods (especially noodles) and baby food. To give you an idea of value, the sale of baby food alone is forecast at over $800 million while dairy sales are expected to exceed $2.2 billion.

Vietnam is the world’s largest exporter of spice and second-largest exporter of rice. On the import side, the Vietnamese are developing a palate for all things non-traditional and are deeply influenced by the western culture. They are buying packaged and ready meals, cheese and pasta even with the per capita income at $1,168. As well, they import sauces, condiments, ice cream and sweet snacks. Vietnam also recently opened to Canadian beef.

Every country in the world is focused on pasta and noodles as they surpass rice in global consumption. Even market opportunities in the Middle East are noodle and pasta based. Customers like to import product and rebrand it in an Arabic name. They too are focused on other Canadian products such as poultry, seafood, baking, dairy, baby food, and cooking oil. Dried and processed foods are popular but the real emerging markets are for distinctly Canadian products such as lobster, scallops, blueberries and maple syrup. This is because, unlike ASEAN areas, there is extensive wealth in the United Arab Emirates and food service is always looking for exotic and imported product to serve.

In all these ASEAN countries, the need for imports of Canadian product, including beef, is a result of a resurgence of the middle class and a growing domestic appetite for western foods and animal fat and protein including dairy. All forms of noodles and pasta imports are increasing, but perhaps the true emerging market is for baby food, the one import that helps sustain a healthy population.

These large populations are attractive for Canadian exporters and they are often condensed in major cities, allowing for access to a huge consumer base without transportation woes.

Canadian beef tonnage exported to ASEAN areas and to the Middle East may seem somewhat trivial, but collectively they are important and significant. As we grow in global trade, Canada can expect to sell more processed, fresh and frozen food into Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

About the author

AF Columnist

Brenda Schoepp

Brenda Schoepp works as an international mentor and motivational speaker. She can be contacted through her website at All rights reserved.



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