Canada has long been known for its goodness—nice, nerdy and excessively polite and apologetic, maybe, but good nonetheless.
But it's always useful to have an outsider's perspective, so here you go. The 2015 Reputation Index for developed countries called Canada "the most admired" country for our friendly and welcoming people, effective government, absence of corruption, and welfare support system. Last year, the UN's Human Development Index ranked Canada one of the best countries in the world to live in. We even outranked the U.S., in whose shadow we've always cringed.
Such accolades notwithstanding, we Canadians remain a humble bunch, usually the last to feel proud of ourselves, our actions or our products. And sometimes that matters big-time.
I'd be the last one to add a match to all the nasty nationalism flaring up right now, but there's a time and a place for a little pride and prejudice—and care—in choosing what we buy, especially food and drink.
I'm thinking here of a little tale from friends who recently visited Australia. They were totally impressed by the prominent "Product of Australia" labels found on everything there from soup to packaged nuts.
The thing is, the "made in Australia" branding is standardized, eye-catching and clear. It sports a consistent green triangle with a golden kangaroo, and a bar showing the ratio of Australian ingredients. The text clearly states how much "Oz" is actually inside. Whether it's "Product of Australia," "Grown in Australia" or "Made in Australia from at least 70% Australian ingredients," you know exactly what you're getting.
So three cheers for Australia for helping consumers support local producers and industries. Sounds like a no-brainer to me.
It stuns me that more of our good Canadian retailers, wholesalers, producers and industry associations aren't way better at self-promotion, especially these days. But then, they're all Canadians, eh? Sorry, sorry, sorry ...
We earnest, friendly, polite Canucks totally need clear, standardized, easy-to-read branding that consistently helps us choose what's proudly Made in Canada. Here's just one example from an industry in America's sightlines these days.
Our dairy industry, like our poultry, egg and turkey industries, uses a supply management system. That means quotas are used to manage our milk supply to keep local milk in and imports, including U.S. milk, out. Why do you think Donald Trump is raising such a stink about it?
What it means for us, though, is that our dairy products are fresher, as milk isn't shipped long distances and, more important, they're safer. Canada's regulations forbid things in our milk supply like rBST or recombinant bovine somatotropin, a synthetic growth hormone with links to cancer that's allowed in the U.S. to increase milk production but forbidden here and in Europe.
A few years back, our dairy industry finally got smart and started branding anything made with "100% Canadian milk." The brandmark featured a cute but totally recognizable blue and white leaping cow with a blue maple leaf. The text was clear and legible.
I was happy to see the proud step, but now it's been "updated" with two sedate cows and it's interpreted differently on different products.
On Häagen-Dazs ice cream, for example—ah, let me get a carton right now so I can fact-check the label, and grab a spoonful!—the text in the new brandmark, is literally illegible. (And, yes, you're safe buying Häagen-Dazs here; in Canada, it's made by Nestle Canada in Ontario.)
Olympic Organic Yogurt, another super-worthy Canadian product, uses the new dairy industry brandmark, too, but in a totally different way. They use gold and white cows, with the tagline, "Good Yogurt from Happy Cows." Cute, yes, but you have to read a 33-word blurb to learn the happy-cow milk is from B.C., plus the different colours make it hardly recognizable.
On the other hand, another favourite of ours, Nature Clean, based in Markham, Ont., doesn't just deliver effective, environmentally friendly super-cleaning products, they also clearly flag their provenance. "Made by Really Nice Canadians" reads the label, alongside a small but eye-catching red and white Canadian flag. How can you resist heir other tagline: "With products this wholesome, there's no surprise we're Canadian."
I guess I shouldn't have been shocked but I was the other day when the assistant manager at my local grocery store, which shall remain nameless, obviously knew his green cleaning products inside out—most of which, by the way, are American—but didn't know Nature Clean was Canadian. What?!
In light of the ongoing U.S. trade crapola, that store should have had giant red and white signs blaring "Made in Canada!" all over that product display—and I told him so, in my own "Raging Grannies" sort of way. (No, I don't wear purple or sing like the members of the popular women's activist group.)
So why should you even care where your dairy or other products come from, besides the obvious health implications of cleanly-sourced, well-regulated food and drink? (Notice I haven't even mentioned China yet?) For every food dollar spent on local products in Canada, there's something like a 70-per-cent multiplier effect on economic wellbeing for your fellow friendly Canadians. Plus you cut down on those stinky carbon emissions from transporting goods all around the globe.
Now that I've plugged some of my Canadian faves, which ones are yours?
If you don't see clear, proud "Made in Canada" signs on them, I'll meet you in the centre aisle with our little red and white maple leaf flags. We can start sprinkling them around the shelves where appropriate while we wait for industry to catch up.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who is a label nerd and a proud Canadian.