SIAL Montreal – Trading food across cultures

Kiosque de la France au SIAL de Montréal

Among international trade shows happening in Canada, one of the most delicious is the SIAL. A crucial meeting point for all players in the food and beverage industry, SIAL gathers flavours and brands from various countries. What flavours, what colours! And what challenges! Doing business between chats and tastes, trading ideas and closing deals are not without complexity! 

Business with Canadian flavours

If a great Montreal chef – Chuck Hughes and his divine condiments, for example – wants to sell his products across Canada, he must navigate the meanders of provincial regulations. These may be trivial for the Mexican cheese maker wishing to establish a presence in Canada.

Foreign cheese producers must first learn about import legislation such as holding a valid cheese import license issued by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. They must also create packaging in 2 official languages that bear no resemblance to their own. Then, they must negotiate with local distributors and know how to attract consumers who behave differently from cheese lovers in their country of origin.

Developing cultural knowledge

Doing business internationally requires an understanding of how cultures are similar or different to our own. The model proposed by the Cultural Intelligence Center (CQC) addresses cultural knowledge in 4 aspects:

  • The business dimension
  • The notion of values and norms
  • The sociolinguistic aspect
  • The leadership component

The business dimension and the notion of values and norms of social interaction are worth developing before embarking on business relations abroad. To facilitate trade, it’s important to improve one’s knowledge of the economic and legal systems, but also of business practices and cultural codes that govern relationships.

The sociolinguistic aspect dominates in communications, whether person-to-person or via marketing tools (websites, brochures, advertising, social media, etc.). In a nutshell, it influences any means to connect and engage with the culture in which the brand hopes to evolve. Speaking the language of your customers, partners, distributors and collaborators allow for a brand to capture their ears, eyes… or stomachs!

The leadership component surfaces when managing diverse teams or teams in various cultural context. This usually happens when the brand settles in a foreign country.

Local cultural intelligence

In-depth knowledge of the market where you hope to prosper is essential when planning to implement a business or a brand in a foreign country or culture. And sometimes, cultural diversity may not be outside one’s border. Incidentally, Sobeys whose packaging is featured in the vignette is an English Canadian brand distributing in French Canada!

As such, gathering and developing cultural intelligence prior to expanding into a new market or market segment, presents a major competitive advantage.