The irony of food marketing

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David Hunter


Back in the day when my mom was a teenager in the ’50s, smoking cigarettes was cool.   Smoking was kosher in doctor’s offices, on airplanes, while nursing, at kid’s birthday parties and in my case in the car with the windows rolled up. Nobody ever thought twice.

When I went to school in the ’80s, it was all about who had the fastest car. I had a 67 Cougar with a 6.5 liter (390 cubic inch) motor in it. Gas was 40 cents a liter and gas mileage and the environment was never a concern while we were smoking the rubber off the tires. If anything, the bigger and faster the motor, the cooler it was.

I remember the day I noticed Australian beef and New Zealand lamb in the grocery stores in the early ’90s. Wow! What a concept. Why buy beef and lamb from your local farmer when you can get it from some farmer 16,000 plus miles away?

Being in food marketing for over a decade, one thing that I find ironic is that there has been a long trend whose psychology says that food sounds better and is more appealing for purchase when it comes from somewhere far away. New Zealand Lamb sounds good, but just like smoking and one’s health, the long-term effects on the wallet are now being realized.

Fast forward to 2014, and some of the biggest companies on the planet are food companies – Nestle, Kraft, Danone, General Mills, Unilever, Weston, etc. – and some of the biggest companies in Canada are grocery stores – Sobey’s/Empire Group, Superstore/Lowblaws, Jim Pattison Group/Save On Foods.

While these companies have popped out of obscurity into multi-billion dollar enterprises, you would think the typical Canadian farmer would have followed suit in acquiring a piece of this massive wealth. Unfortunately, in my opinion, one of the biggest flaws of capitalism and our government is that farmers have been treated over the last few decades like the sows going to the slaughterhouse. The only difference is at least the sows die fast.

I think it’s a modern day joke – bigger than doctors smoking in their offices – to say that there is no money in farming and that the farmer’s daughter’s and son’s are advised to stay clear from the profession. What are we going to eat and who are we going to get it from? Politicians and high-powered executives in big companies will hopefully realize soon that if they keep treating the farmer as a disposable commodity, they won’t be able to eat their regulation papers and money.

The good news is that here in the Maritimes, for the most part the farmers matter and you can see that in the Sackville, Moncton and Dieppe farmers’ markets. If I had the money I would build a ritzy local only grocery store in the middle of all the Sobey’s and Superstores in the Hub City with a focus on giving farmers a fair price and employees a good salary.

One thing that I like to see is that the farmers who have their booths in these farmers’ markets seem to be making some money selling their goods for retail. It’s most likely a renaissance starting from the corporation and governments turning their back on this segment for so long.  I just hope the government doesn’t get involved with these farmers’ markets, because just like almost everything they touch, they seem to suck the money out the working guy’s wallet once they get involved.

At the end of the day, I am really happy that “local” or “regional” are becoming the key words when it comes to food. It’s a growth segment for sure, and there seems to be a spark of opportunity manifesting. The money spent on food should not go to Australia, New Zealand, Brazil even the USA for that matter. Now that we know better, there is no way in the world Australian Beef and New Zealand Lamb should be in the grocery stores, never mind having it competitively priced to compete with a farmer in Sackville! 

I would really like to know what is the big threat of everyday Canadian farmers having cash in their wallets?

I would also like to know who the bozos were/are in government who dreamt up provincial and federal food licensing and who they were working for. This is a whole other column, but by being in the inside and knowing what goes on behind the scenes, licensing is not about protecting food safety for the citizens. Licensing, the way it’s structured, is about protecting old school corporate alliances by literally putting trade embargos on smaller producers and making sure they stay small and in debt.

This squeeze on the farmer goes on but at the same time the doors are open for New Zealand Lamb to be on the shelves? Then a small provincial guy (who lives in Canada) can’t put his lamb in Superstore because they cannot afford to be “federally” licensed?  Thanks for the help Big Brother, here’s another bag of money to protect us.

David Hunter is a Sackville resident and local business owner.

Organizations: Danone, General Mills, Unilever Jim Pattison Group

Geographic location: New Zealand, Canada, Sackville Moncton Dieppe Hub City Australia Brazil USA

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Recent comments

  • Will
    March 04, 2014 - 11:00

    I agree we should buy local but it's amazing how different people can have such different perceptions of what is happening in agriculture. If there are no small farmers, factory farms will do just fine. People consume so much meat that companies have to scale up and make things efficient to produce enough meat - via hormones and congested areas for animals. It is the very demand for meat by all of us that creates the need for efficiency of large factory farms. And farmers are some of the biggest receivers of subsidies -keeping unhealthy meats and dairy at low prices, while healthier vegetables like salads and fruits remain higher priced. Meanwhile lobster fishermen want guaranteed prices for their products and no US competition. How many other businesses can ask for that?