Skip to main content

Ask the Expert: Make your first-impression count

You asked; she answered. Harbinger Communications vice-president gives the steps to success for launching new c-store products in Canada.
Sofia Costa headshot
Sofia Costa, vice-president, client service at Harbinger Communications

QUESTION: What do companies need to know about launching a new product in Canada (and what should c-stores be aware of, so they don’t venture into the grey zone when procuring new items)?

When it comes to launching a brand or product in Canada, particularly food products, repurposing global strategy will not guarantee repeated success. There are several factors that should be considered when planning a launch in this market.

Advertisement - article continues below

Here’s what you need to know about new labelling rules in Canada:

  • Front-of-package (FOP) nutrition labelling will be required for many (not all) food products that Health Canada considers to exceed nutrition thresholds for saturated fat, sugar and/or sodium.
  • Manufacturers have until January 1, 2026, to comply with requirements, which include the display of a standard symbol on the principal display panel.
  • Products imported into Canada, manufactured in Canada or packed at stores before this deadline, will be allowed to stay in warehouse and to be sold at retail.
  • Health Canada is responsible for regulation development, but compliance is enforced by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).  

Reference: More information regarding front-of-package nutrition labelling is available on Health Canada’s website.

1. Where it’s made: Now more than ever, Canadian consumers are aware and considerate of where their products are manufactured or sourced. While Canadians do embrace global flavours and brands, there is preference to support local growers, to invest in Canadian talent and to reflect Canadian ingredients or products, where possible. Equally important is transparency of sourcing and sustainability practices.  Making this visible and accessible to consumers is key and may prove to be the tie breaker at shelf.

2. What you have to say: In Canada there are two official languages, English and French and bilingual labelling and nutrition information are required on-pack (with some exceptions). This may take some creative design and copywriting efforts to retain the impact of your packaging and other communications. Labelling, however, is not the only consideration. Particularly in the province of Quebec (the second most populated market in Canada), there are unique language requirements and contextual considerations when it comes to copy development. Working with a team that understands Quebec culture and language, and that is able to provide a true interpretation of messages and meaning, can make-or-break your resonance with Francophone Canadians.

3. Can you actually say it? A powerful and compelling reason-to-believe can help you win with consumers. But you may not be able to claim the same ‘fame’ in all markets. There are national and regional policies related to marketing to children, conducting contests and promotions and marketing of alcohol, cannabis and tobacco products that may differ across markets. When it comes to nutrition and health benefits, Canada often has different thresholds or regulations that need to be met to support a claim or benefit. Additionally, Canada has recently introduced new front-of-pack disclosure rules for food products. Being aware of how these regulations may impact your product(s) and working with a creative communications team that can optimize your messaging is key to success.

4. Lean into your fan base: Canadians don’t live in a bubble. Our exposure and consumption of U.S. media, means that we see—and crave—new products even before they hit our store shelves. So lean into your fan base early. Consider engaging those who will drive demand and product purchase first and who may very well be your most authentic, organic, endorsers.

5. Leverage influence: – The power of influencers to help drive awareness and consideration is equally relevant in Canada, as in other markets.  But, it’s not just about engaging content creators to share your brand. Finding the right mix of influencers who reflect the Canadian consumer interest and diversity is essential. And, depending on your objectives and point of difference, looking beyond social influencers to professionals, athletes, media, and grassroots community influencers may be more effective at landing credibility, than a global celebrity influencer.

Going grey?

Non-Canadian confectionery, beverages and other snacks without proper approvals and labelling are a growing problem in the c-store channel. Often grey-market products are imported and/or carried by smaller cash-and-carry wholesalers and retailers may not be aware that the products they sell don't comply with Canadian requirements. This presents a significant public safety risk to all Canadians, according to the Convenience Industry Council of Canada. In its federal budget submission, CICC raised the issue with the Minister of Finance and recommended additional support to screen for these products and for the Government of Canada to undertake a study on the prevalence of grey market products and the fallout, which includes lost tax revenue.

6. Test and learn: While a regional test may seem like a costly delay in a market the size of Canada, it could prove to be an efficient and effective investment toward a successful launch. If your brand or product is blazing a new trail, this approach, in particular, may help gauge the impact of key messages, claims, variants or creative before they are promoted more broadly. Plus, it could provide key sales data to propel new listings and demand.

7. Help them find you: It’s not always cost-effective to launch unique Canadian brand owned channels. But, it is beneficial to provide local consumers with Canadian-specific content on your website and social channels, where possible. At a minimum, consider providing Canadian-specific store listings or where-to-buy information, visibility to regionally available products and packaging (if different from other markets), and access to customer care teams who can address inquiries for the local market in a timely way.  Ultimately, you should provide your consumers with what they want and need for a positive brand experience.

About the Author

Sofia Costa

Sofia Costa is vice-president, client service at Harbinger Communications in Toronto. She oversees the Consumer practice and has extensive experience across food and beverage categories. Harbinger Communications is an independently owned, public relations agency that specializes in launching brands, products and purpose in Canada. For more information see or connect with Sofia at [email protected].
Advertisement - article continues below
This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds