How to grow with the ‘buy local’ phenomenon in Canada

—With the pandemic likely to accelerate the “buy local” trend in Canada, brands need to be thinking about how to meet consumer expectations, says Crop’s Alain Giguere—

The pandemic has caused many Canadians to realize just how dependent we are on international markets for essential supplies. The shortage of masks, respirators and personal protective clothing and equipment, and the recent delays in vaccine deliveries from Belgium, have exposed our vulnerability.

However, this weakness in domestic production represents a tremendous opportunity for “local” Canadian producers to pick up the slack from our imports.

It’s an opportunity our governments should be promoting, especially now the economy is recovering. The Quebec government is currently implementing an ambitious policy to encourage local production and local buying across the province—an initiative worth replicating across the country.

It is also interesting to note that buying “local” has become a very important purchasing criterion in recent years for more than one in four Canadian consumers, who are willing to pay (a little) more to benefit from this “added value.” This trend has been growing steadily since the middle of the last decade.


Our common experience during the past year, as well as the recovery efforts in the coming months, should provide an ideal environment to keep this trend rising—by encouraging both the consumer interest for local products and the Canadian entrepreneurs who produce them. If managed properly, this local market should grow vigorously over the next few years, representing an excellent business opportunity for those who understand how to properly position themselves in this market.

This requires more than merely identifying yourself as “local.” Our research at Crop has shown very clearly that consumers who “buy local” have a number of expectations that must be taken into account.

A soul, a founding myth

Behind most local products is someone who has invested their entire being, passion and dreams. There is a story, a founding myth. The product (or service) has a soul. And consumers feel it. Even better, they want to hear this story. If the story resonates, they will “consume” both the story and the product itself.

Consequently, the brand’s value proposition must incorporate the concrete, the practical and the utility, along with the human story and the dream that began it all. Consumers want to buy both, and are willing to pay for them.

In fact, the “localness” of a product is almost not that important. Even though its “localness” adds an element of pride, what counts is the story behind it. (Consumers identify with where the founding myth originated.) Such a “mythology” is not restricted to small companies. A small to mid-size company can also fit into this trend, provided it has an authentic founding myth and an original mission that is still relevant to today’s consumers.

You need to tell your story, to make it known. Use it to legitimize the relevance of both the original and current offer to consumers. You have to sell your founding myth as much as you do your product or service itself.

A “glocal” identity

Often, these authentic products are part of a “global” trend that is being expressed in a “local” way; hence the rise of the term “glocalism.” One example is urban agriculture.

When food production is brought into the city, it has an impact on the urban environment and its biodiversity. It transforms the city and helps residents discover what a farm is. These initiatives are taking off all over the world and are already engrained in our country.

More consumers want to feel like they belong to this “glocality.” Although they feel deeply connected to their own region and locality, they also feel like citizens of the world; they feel connected and a sense of belonging to a planetary movement.

Thus, buying products that reflect this “glocal” trend further rewards “buy local” consumers by providing added legitimacy.

Therefore, if you can authentically find a way to associate a global movement with the value proposition of your local product (or service), be sure to proclaim it loudly and clearly. Consumers are prepared to pay for this added value.

An ecological and social engagement

This theme may seem self-evident because it is usually a natural feature of local products (organic, fair trade, etc.). But, again, shout it from the rooftops.

Consumers of local products expect such “criteria” to be an integral part of the offer. Especially its ecological virtues: people are increasingly paying attention to ways they can reduce their carbon footprint.

This trend has become a purchasing criterion for a rising number of consumers, even if many of them are not passionate about buying local. Consequently, the ecological merits of local products represent a growth opportunity.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the social and community merits of these offers. They must be part of the product mix because “local” buyers expect it. But they are not necessarily an axis of growth. In other words, (according to our data, at least) promoting local brands that can tout their ecological benefits could help acquire new customers, but the social and community benefits of your brand are unlikely to attract new consumers because they already assume you’re better for the community.

In any case, it is important to highlight the ecological, social, ethical and sustainable virtues of your local products. These are essential purchasing criteria for customers interested in buying local.

Technological innovation

While this may seem counterintuitive, the market segment interested in buying local products is also highly attracted to technological innovation. These consumers are fascinated by the notion that there are new, more effective tools transforming our relationship with nature, helping us do more at a lower cost.

They hope that innovation can give us more control over our lives and encourage the flourishing of new businesses and processes that would have been unimaginable only a short time ago.

Whether in agriculture or manufacturing, these innovations are gaining momentum. They may also be part of the myth on which local products or services are based.

If you can demonstrate that innovation is part of the value proposition of the local product you want to promote, be sure to shout it loud and clear.

Value added

Last but not least, local products offer a “value added.” Consumers are willing to pay more, as long as the product meets their purchasing criteria. For example, if your Ontario or Quebec cheeses are more expensive than the plethora of French cheeses on the market, that’s okay. Especially if you have a story to tell, a story that resonates for the Canadian consumer.

Clearly, the more a local product conforms to the optimal combination of the above criteria, the more it will justify the premium price that consumers are willing to pay for the product’s value added. You don’t even have to position the product on all these criteria. If they are properly articulated, well executed and presented, just a few will suffice.

Thus, even if the graph above shows a clear trend, hopefully we are only at the beginning of this upward movement. With more strategic marketing, the opportunity could be considerable.

Alain Giguere is the president of Crop Market Research in Montreal.