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Changes in the Ethnocultural Landscape of Alberta and New Cropportunities

 
  Hort Snacks - March 2018
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 Introduction | Traditional Ethnic Origins, by region - Alberta | Ethnic Origins, ranked by country - Alberta | Immigration Patterns - Alberta | What does this mean? (for producers) | Some References / Resources | General Guidelines | New Cropportunities | Conclusions

Introduction

Since its inception, Canada has had a diverse population, made up of people from countries all over the world. All of these cultures and backgrounds have blended to some extent, creating what you might call a “Canadian flavour”. At the same time, each person or culture brings some of their traditions and experiences, as well as their inherent preferences for certain things, particularly food. You don’t have to go far to see the influence of a particular culture on aspects of the diet of a region, even if there hasn’t been a new arrival for generations. For example, the Ukrainian culture is incredibly influential in areas of Alberta, driving the demand for certain products.

In any town or city in Alberta, it is easy to see that there have been changes in the ethnic or cultural representation in the population. The degree of diversity varies quite a bit from town to town, but it is definitely more diverse. The recently released Canadian Census 2016 provides a lot of interesting data that supports those observations.

If you dive deeper into the ethnic diversity and immigration data from past 4 censuses (2001, 2006, 2011 and 2016), you’ll find some fascinating trends and patterns in the populations of Canada (as a whole), as well as in provinces such as Alberta. On most levels, patterns and trends are fairly consistent at both the national and the provincial level. Looking at the data, you can see that there have been surges in some very specific ethnicities in the past 2 census periods. Shifts in ethnocultural demographics represents opportunities for producers to supply produce to new and different consumers.

Traditional Ethnic Origins, by region - Alberta

Origins
2001
2016
African
0.8
3.7
Asian
9.0
20.5
South Asian
2.5
6.2
Source: Statistics Canada. Census of Canada, 2001; Census of Canada, 2016

Traditionally, the vast majority (>75%) of the population of Alberta has been made up of individuals who identified their ancestry from North American or European origins, including the British Isles, France and other European nations. Some of the interesting changes from 2001 to 2016include an increase in reported declared ethnicities by over 40 (from 200+ to 255), as well as a doubling in the percentage of the population originating from the regions of Asia, South Asia and Africa. While some of these changes would have come from reproductive population growth, a good part of it has come through immigration.

The chart show ethnic origins (by percentage by region) for Alberta, from Census 2016, as well as highlighting the doubling (or more) of specific regions.

Ethnic Origins, ranked by country - Alberta

When the ethnic origin/countries of origin for Alberta are ranked, the top 12 countries didn’t change much from year to year. However, from 2001 to 2016, two different ethnicities (Filipino and East Indian) moved up significantly, with one breaking the top 12 barrier.

Table 1: Rank of declared Country of Origin/Ethnic Origin for 4 different Canadian censuses

Rank
2001 Census
2006 Census
2011 Census
2016 Census
1
Canadian
English
English
Canadian
2
English
German
Canadian
English
3
German
Canadian
German
German
4
Scottish
Scottish
Scottish
Scottish
5
Irish
Irish
Irish
Irish
6
French
French
French
French
7
Ukrainian
Ukrainian
Ukrainian
Ukrainian
8
Dutch (Netherlands)
Dutch (Netherlands)
Dutch
First Nations
9
First Nations
Polish
First Nations
Dutch
10
Polish
First Nations
Polish
Chinese
11
Norwegian
Norwegian
Chinese
Polish
12
Chinese
Chinese
Norwegian
Filipino
13
Swedish
Swedish
East Indian
East Indian
14
Italian
Russian
Filipino
Norwegian
15
Métis
East Indian
Russian
Métis
16
Russian
Métis
Swedish
Russian
17
East Indian
Italian
Métis
Italian
18
Welsh
Welsh
Italian
Swedish
19
Danish
American
British Isles origins, n.i.e.
British Isles origins, n.i.e.
20
American (USA)
Danish
Welsh
Welsh
21
Hungarian (Magyar)
Filipino
American
American
22
Filipino
British Isles, n.i.e.
Danish
Danish
23
Austrian
Hungarian (Magyar)
Hungarian
Hungarian
24
Vietnamese
Austrian
Spanish
Spanish
25
Romanian
Spanish
Austrian
Austrian
Source: Statistics Canada. Census of Canada, 2001, 2006, 2011, 2016

Immigration Patterns - Alberta

As mentioned previously, increases in specific ethnicities comes as a result of reproductive population growth, as well as through immigration. Looking at Alberta immigration numbers for the 2016 Census, a number of different trends become visible. Prior to 1981, the majority of immigrants arrived from European countries, whereas in later periods these regions did not supply many immigrants. Some countries and ethnicities saw a significant increase in the number of immigrants arriving in Alberta. Immigration numbers into Alberta increased significantly in the past 2 census periods. Table 2 highlights population surges in Alberta from various countries over the various census periods.

Table 2: Periods of immigration for various countries, as well as 2001 Census versus 2016 Census changes in rank

Place of Birth
Total Immigrant Population
Period of Immigration
Rank in 2001
Rank in 2016
Before 1981
1981 to 1990
1991 to 2000
2001 to 2005
2006 to 2010
2011 to 2016
Total
845215
163460
86350
131565
109145
146910
207790
0
0
Mexico
15665
815
1580
2695
2070
4100
4400
54
33
Cameroon
1760
10
0
35
155
505
1055
193
112
Nigeria
12405
165
170
645
1445
3875
6110
81
48
Ethiopia
10565
60
665
1580
1995
2820
3445
77
47
Iran
8910
165
870
1420
1395
1785
3260
55
45
Syria
4800
190
160
285
355
480
3335
80
62
India
91660
7045
5370
14905
14965
20555
28820
17
13
Pakistan
28075
1065
885
5080
7610
6530
6910
47
29
China
57695
7150
5085
10740
14055
10135
10525
12
10
Philippines
123830
4825
5620
15545
12180
26270
59390
22
12
Source: Statistics Canada. 2016. Census of Canada, 2016, Immigration and Ethnocultural Diversity Highlight Tables - Alberta

What does this mean? (for producers)

As population demographics shift, there are changes in demand for various products. As evidenced by the changes (increases) in certain ethnic groups, there may be opportunities for Alberta producers in terms of new crops, new markets and new customers. The increasingly global nature of our food systems means that we have greater access to a diversity of products that serves to reinforce our cultural preferences. Globetrotting consumers today are also more aware of other cultures and the food that goes with them, and are willing to venture into new territory. The National Restaurant Association recently published the Top 20 Hottest Food Trends of 2018. Of the 20, nine of them have some sort of ethnic spin or angle.

The emphasis on local production or the shift in preference towards locally sourced product is also important. Consumers of all backgrounds are interested in buying fresh, local Canadian product. It is worth evaluating what and how you sell, to ensure that you are able to take advantage of these new opportunities.

Some References / Resources
General Guidelines

New entrants to Canada are often looking to consume foods that were part of their diets in their home country. While the product might be something familiar to us (on a general level), each ethnicity will likely vary in their individual preferences, with vegetable preferences varying in their size, colour and type. Variations in name may be slight, but significant.

Many new consumers have a farming background and have a high level of awareness of “what to look for”, as well as desiring a high level of quality and freshness, while being value-conscious. While there are many similarities to traditional customers, with most consumers wanting fruit, tubers, leafy greens and Cole crops, there may be some specific characteristics that are preferred over others. Additionally, there may be a demand for blossoms over fruit, or alternative leafy materials, such as the leaves of plants and those that are often considered weeds. It is important to have a price for everything, so that if the opportunity comes in the form of a request, you are prepared. How you sell may need to change, or you may need to re-evaluate the level of understanding of your new customers on the “traditional rules”. Rules may need to be clearer and it is possible that customer management levels may need to be increased.

New Cropportunities

Based on some of the ethnic population surges outlined previously, the following represent some general opportunity crops that might be preferred for specific ethnicities and ethnic cuisines. It is important to recognize that most of these vegetables may be grown in Alberta, however some additional effort may be required to do it successfully. It is also important that these are generalizations to a broad region, and there can be significant variations within countries and between ethnic groups.

Latin America: Most of our traditional vegetables (potatoes, onions, peppers) would be desired by this group, however they may desire specific characteristics. Hot peppers, tomatillo and various types of squash and melons would be on the list. Squash blossoms might also be desired, as well as cilantro. Corn smut (Huitlacoche) is a fungus, but is a mushroom-y delicacy.

Africa: Okra is a high demand crop, as are eggplants, chili peppers and tomatoes. Various greens (lettuce, spinach, etc.) are a part of this region’s cuisine, however these could be expanded to include pumpkin leaves, pigweeds, amaranth and celosia. Yardlong beans and cucurbit blossoms are also in demand.

Middle East: Vegetables play a big part in the cuisine of this region, as do grains and pulse crops. Tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, onions, garlic, carrots, turnips, beets, squash, okra and many varieties of cabbage, spinach and chard would be demanded by these groups.

South Asia: Most of the vegetables demanded by this ethnicity are familiar to us on the Prairies, including spinach, tomatoes, cauliflower, potato, cabbage, carrots, green beans and green or red chili peppers. The use of alternative greens, such as weeds like wild mustard, or fenugreek, are also in demand. Small and baby onions, as well as small/round eggplants, okra, bitter melon and cilantro and coriander would be different or specific products preferred by this region. The type of eggplant is an example of a highly ethnic-specific preference.

Asia: In addition to tomatoes, spinach, carrots, broccoli, lettuce (romaine and red), those of this region prefer long/skinny types of eggplants, bitter melon, Chinese type green beans and celery. There is also demand for a wide assortment of ethnic (Chinese) Cole crops, such as bok choy/pak choy, Chinese broccoli (gai lan, Chinese kale), Chinese cabbages and oriental radish (daikon). These crops are reasonably easy to grow in this area, however they may be susceptible to various pests, so may require additional protection and care.

Philippines: Filipinos prefer a small/long/skinny type of eggplant, bitter melons, okra, yard long beans or long string beans, bok choy (called Pechay), as well as cantaloupe and watermelon.

Conclusions

Regardless of the ethnic origins of an area or the specific individuals within it, it is worth paying attention to the demands for product from your customers. This means that you may have more customers asking for new or diverse product selections than you might expect. It might also be worth targeting specific ethnic groups in your area with targeted marketing, special events or linking in with cultural associations. Selling to local restaurants might also be a possibility
 
 
 
 
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Robert Spencer.
This information published to the web on February 27, 2018.