When it comes to trade shows for the food industry, there is always such a thing as a free lunch.
The smorgasbord of vendor booths generally offer everything from pizza to beer — nonstop noshing for one and all.
At least that’s what I thought before I attended my first Canadian foodservice trade show in the mid-1990s. As I attempted to sample some tasty-looking finger foods from one display (during the course of my duties as a reporter, of course) a booth attendant politely informed me that the free samples were “for buyers only.” Indeed, as I perused the show floor, stomach growling, I noticed that booth after booth had signs up stating that only those attendees with the appropriate color on their badges were permitted to partake of the offerings.
That was when I began to get an understanding of the differences between the Canadian and U.S. mindsets. In Canada, thrift is not a virtue that businesses may or may not choose to embrace — it is often ingrained as a core value.
To be fair, Canada’s economy was weaker then than it is now, imposing a tight-fisted mentality upon both consumers and merchants. But I have since learned that value and thrift are still generally more important and pervasive qualities in Canada than they are in the U.S.
This is evidenced by the level of sophistication in Canada’s ubiquitous discount grocery segment, as well as the success of grocery private label North of the Border. Those will both be formidable obstacles for Minneapolis-based Target Corp.  to overcome as it seeks to export its “cheap chic” ethos to the land of the loonie.
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Target does seem to have done its homework with regard to the thrifty nature of Canadian consumers. In an interview with SN (see this week’s cover feature here ), a Target Canada spokeswoman repeatedly mentioned the availability of Archer Farms and Market Pantry, the chain’s grocery private labels. In addition, Target Canada President Tony Fisher was quoted at a press event last month saying — over and over again — that the company is committed to value, with guaranteed low prices.
At least one report in the Canadian Press, however, indicated that some shoppers were disappointed in Target’s pricing.
In Canada, it’s possible that Target might just have to learn to live with a little bit less, just like everyone else — even hungry reporters.
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