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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: One person's hero may be another's villain

Hardly a week goes by without hearing about concerns from local domestic producers about the negative impact of consolidation and the lack of support from their customers, notably retailers, for the domestic industry - not just here in Canada but worldwide.

What is also interesting is how folks determine what is local and domestic. Local to one producer often takes on a different definition depending on where he or she lives and what he or she sees as "their" market.

In Canada, each provincial government is urging customers to support their own domestic sector. Yet within the same province, the support desired by producers is often more specific than that; it is for the local producer.

So while producers in a particular province may all support a provincial banner, within their province there is still the competition to support for the local producer - perhaps over another producer from further away in the same province.

The real interest to expand support to buy Canadian becomes a call, but only when the collective voice across the country identifies the common problem as imported product. I guess that while what is really wanted is support for the local producer, then support is for the province next, and after that it is best to buy Canadian.

This is a common theme played out across this country, but I dare say in every country around the world.

While we hear from various provincial producer organizations and their governments that they would like the local buyers to support domestic (I can't figure out if the Canadian government definition is the same as that of an individual province), you also read releases or hear speeches which extol the virtues and strengths of their sectors that (gasp!) export commodities.

Within Canada, that could be one province moving product into another. And the reality is that each province is selling some product into another province and beyond that, of course, into export markets such as the United States.

My question is, if buyers are supposed to support domestic product only, why are governments and producers then asking buyers in other "foreign" markets to buy their product, and consequently hurt other domestic producers, in their local markets?

You think this is only Canadian? Wrong. Again, every week I read reports of how producers somewhere in the world are saying exactly the same thing as Canadian producers.

At the same time, I read how certain commodities in those same countries are experiencing great export growth. How come you never hear from those who are growing their exports?

I am sure these folks are happy that some customer outside their local region or country is supporting them. The rub on that is that this same "foreign" customer they are happy with is probably getting an earful from his or her local producers as to why they aren't supporting their local industry. Knowing many of these Canadian customers, most if not all are really trying their best to support local producers.

The reality is, there is much more to the equation, and that includes having the necessary pieces in place to do business, be that food safety, coding, quality, volumes required and promotional support.

Are all producers in trouble? This is another question that also is somewhat baffling.

There is no doubt that these are very difficult times for many, particularly faced with so many demands, be it from customers or government legislation. Many are on the edge, including some who have become successful beyond their local market.

Having said that, it is not realistic to say that every commodity or producer is in dire straits. Some commodities continue to see growth in production, domestic and exported. One would assume this could not be achieved without some degree of economic return. Whether or not this growth is sustainable, we can only wait and see.

The fact is that every country has this blend of those under pressure looking for more support from their local customers, and those that are growing their business into someone else's traditional market.

The fact remains that it is a global market, and no more can anyone claim that it is solely their own market. This runs true for producers, packers, shippers, distributors and even retail organizations. What was once the norm is no longer the case.

So while the plea is to support local, at the same time the push is on to be global. In this scenario, one's villain may be seen as someone else's hero. What it really is in truth is today's business reality. The question one must begin to ask, am I global-ready?

(Dan Dempster is president of the Canadian Produce Marketing Association.)