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(Michael Falco)
(Michael Falco)

Your Business Abroad

Canada means 'nothing?' Not to these guys Add to ...

You won’t find a Canadian flag in Mile End Delicatessen, a small, bustling sandwich shop in Brooklyn, N.Y.

You’ll rarely see a Fleur-de-lis.

Aside from a little Neil Young occasionally playing on the stereo, the only distinctly Canadian thing you’ll notice about it is the smoked meat sandwich.

The popular deli, opened by Canadian Noah Bermanoff about 10 months ago, identifies itself as a Montreal smoked meat shop. You can’t get the stuff anywhere else in Brooklyn, though there’s corned beef everywhere you look. And you can’t get Mile End smoked meat in Montreal – you have to go to Brooklyn.

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The Canadian-ness of the product sets Mr. Bermanoff apart from the other Jewish delis in the neighbourhood, he says.

“People have been making strong connections between Mile End and Canada. They’ll ask: ‘Are you the one from Canada?’ And yeah I’m proud to say I’m from Canada. Here I am making it in New York City.”

Mr. Bermanoff decided to take a very nationalized product and sell it outside our nation’s borders. Though the restaurateur already lived in Brooklyn and opened the shop after ditching law school, many Canadian-based companies are hawking their products in international markets quite intentionally, in part relying on the good name of Canada to make their sales.

Our country has been associated with quality, says Mark Mensing, president of Vancouver-based Canada Export Centre.

“People perceive us to have treated our environment well and to be good people to do business with,” he adds. “It’s more than branding, I think it has more to do with the perception of Canada. Canada’s still held in very high regard in many places.”

Mr. Mensing knows furniture and heating companies that do incredibly well in Asia, for example, because consumers place greater trust in North American or European brands, he says. Some of them conduct most of their business abroad, opting to run little more than bare bones sales operations at home.

But Canadians could still work their brands and their products a lot harder internationally, he adds, a point echoed by Alan Middleton, a professor of marketing at York University’s Schulich School of Business and co-author of Ikonica: A Field Guide to Canada’s Brandscape.

Canada doesn’t have the same overall product quality associations that countries in Europe or even Asia have, he says. He notes a recent series in a French business newspaper that asked readers to share what came to mind when they heard the name of a country. Canada was included and the response came as no surprise to Prof. Middleton.

“The highest single response was 48 per cent,” he says. “And those 48 per cent of people said ‘Nothing.’ Other things were Quebec, mountains, cold, Inuit or ‘Eskimos’ as they called them. The largest single thing was nothing.”

It’s a good example of how we’re viewed internationally for quality, but not for making anything in particular, Prof. Middleton says. To be fair, Canada has been known as a country of rich natural resources, he adds, for clear streams that make quality bottled water and beer, but it’s nothing compared with Japan or Germany being known for well-made cars. Nor does Canada have the brewing reputation of Germany or Belgium.

Companies are more inclined to simply go global than self-identify to consumers as Canadian, Prof. Middleton says. Waterloo, Ont.-based RIM does not brand its Blackberry products with Canadian flags to boast of its roots, for example.

And why would it? “We do not have a reputation globally that we have particular strengths in high-end electronics,” he says.

One company that has proudly used its Canadian identity abroad is Canada Goose parkas, high-end winter jackets that are now sold in more than 40 countries. The brand association works in part because people trust Canadian quality, says president and CEO Dani Reiss. The company’s Canadian roots, though it considers itself a global company, is part of its story and proud heritage.

“Made in Canada to Canada Goose is like a Swiss watch made in Switzerland,” Mr. Reiss says. “You can’t outsource that.”

About 55 per cent of the company’s sales are in Europe, the United States or in Asia, he says, with 45 per cent coming from Canada. And though the company is more than 50 years old, Mr. Reiss went to Europe 10 years ago to kick-start the new era of the family business because he knew Europeans value well-made products, that they would “get it.”

“If it wasn’t made in Canada, they wouldn’t buy it,” Mr. Reiss says. “[At the time]Canadians were thinking ‘It’s an Arctic product,’ and they wouldn’t give us the time of day.”

In consumers minds, the Canadian identity is crucial because it’s so relevant to the product, he says.

“There is a perception that it’s very cold in Canada, so the fact that we make parkas is a logical step that people understand. For sure, ‘Made in Canada’ resonates.”

And for that reason, you won’t see Canada Goose setting up shop in Asia or other parts of the world. It’s integral to the brand to continue making the popular coats in their Greater Toronto Area, Winnipeg and Vancouver factories. And it’s important to keep sourcing materials – the fabric, the fur and the down – in Canada, too.

“It’s critical if part of the history of the brand and raison d’etre of that brand is [Canadian] that it needs to be made in that country,” he says. “If we were to start making our coats in China, we’d be selling our soul.”

While Mr. Bermanoff in his Brooklyn deli doesn’t have a brazen badge announcing his national identity to the world, his customers keep coming back partly because of the Canadian novelty.

“For me it was just the right decision to bring it here. Canadians in Montreal are excited about affirming the things that Montreal has and a feeling of competition between pastrami and smoked meat,” he says. “I think we are doing something substantially different from any deli in Montreal ...

“Now that we’ve gotten to this point, there probably is an opportunity in Montreal.”

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