Bridging the Atlantic
While on vacation in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal a few years ago, FPCBP member Manuel Fernandes, his wife Ana, and some of her family were enjoying a Douro-region wine with their conversation. With land-owners and grape growers in Ana’s family, talk often turned to wine, and this time was no different.
“We can’t get this wine back home,” she pointed out.
“You’re right, probably not,” he replied.
When one of her cousins suggested he introduce the wine to Ontario, a seed was planted in Fernandes’s mind.
A year later, back in Portugal, another wine, another conversation and another realization that this particular wine wasn’t available back home. This time, Fernandes thought, bringing some of these wines back to Ontario would be a good move for his business, Davenport & Vista, where he’s the vice president of sales. As a producer of menu covers, his company was already dealing with restaurants, and wine seemed to be a natural fit.
But, he says with a laugh, he became a wine agent “because I wanted wine for myself.”
In 2005, wine made up the largest share, 14 per cent, of the $316 million value of total Portuguese exports to Canada, a 5.4 per cent increase over 2004. Other major exports to Canada include cork and related products, footwear, housewares, food products and building materials. Increased demand for these and other goods resulted in a more than 50 per cent increase in Portuguese exports to Canada over the six-year period from 1999-2005.
Going the other way, Canada exported $164 million to Portugal in the 2005 fiscal year, with agricultural products, and mechanical and electrical machinery each making up about 25 per cent of the total. In the same year, Canadian investment in Portugal totalled $629 million.
In Canada, it is the job of ICEP Portugal, better known as the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Commission, to promote Portugal as a travel and business destination. Luis Moura, ICEP’s director and trade and tourism commissioner for Canada, has been at the helm of the Canadian branch since July 2003. His time in Canada has coincided with a 25 per cent jump in exports from Portugal to Canada.
“The increase in exports is a symptom of an increased interest in the market,” Moura says. “(Portuguese business) people are diversifying the primary markets they’re working with which naturally are Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Germany. Once those markets are covered, they move to countries that are a bit farther away. Canada is one of those.”
In 2001, the Federation of Portuguese Canadian Business and Professionals (FPCBP) organized a trade mission to Portugal in an effort to further increase bilateral business interests in the Portuguese and Canadian markets by establishing and strengthening contacts between players in both business communities.
“Was it a success? Well, yes, very much so,” says José L. Pinto, FPCBP’s president at the time. “If we look back now, I think there’s business being done today that started out as a result of meeting people there, or getting ideas or thoughts at that point. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
The 10-day trip took the delegation from business meetings in Porto to diplomatic receptions with then-Canadian Ambassador Robert Vanderloo and then-President Jorge Sampaio in Lisbon, to an event in the Alentejo region that was organized by one of the FPCBP’s founders.
“We also had a reception in Évora hosted by a wine merchant that was actually a founding member of the Federation, who has since returned to Portugal,” Pinto remembers. “His name is Vasco D’Avillez.”
Today, D’Avillez is the president of ViniPortugal, an interprofessional association for the promotion of Portuguese wines. The work he does as a promoter and wine agent, and the work done by Canadian agents like Fernandes, plays a significant part in the upward trend in trade between the two countries.
Strictly speaking, wine agents are not importers. In Ontario, for instance, alcohol imports are the monopoly of the LCBO, the world’s largest single buyer of alcohol. The job of a wine agent is to represent a supplier’s interests here, including placing orders for their products through the LCBO.
Between 2004-2005, sales of Portuguese red wines at the LCBO jumped more than 18 per cent, while Port sales grew more than 10 per cent despite an overall decline in imported fortified wines. Growth has since levelled off, but Javier Santos, business unit director for wines at the LCBO, continues to see strength both in and out of the Portuguese-Canadian community.
“There is a good following from the Portuguese community,” Santos says. “Port, especially, does pretty well outside the community, and there are a couple of wines that do very well throughout the province.”
According to the 2001 census, 360,000 people of Portuguese background live in Canada, representing a significant market for Portuguese goods – and tastes.
In 1982, Luis Borges opened Borges Foods Ltd. in a storefront shop on Augusta Avenue in Toronto’s Kensington Market. His products helped fill the need for Portuguese-style foods missing from the tables of recent immigrants.
Though the company was sold by Borges and no longer resides on Augusta Avenue, the goal of producing authentic Portuguese food remains the same. To do it, the company imports ingredients from Portugal deemed necessary to achieve flavour as near as possible to the real thing.
Mário Gomes joined Borges Foods Ltd. three months after it opened. He’s since purchased the company with partner George Romeiro, risen to president, and seen the company grow into a national supplier with exports to the United States and Bermuda, and customers outside the traditional Portuguese-Canadian community.
“The (number) of sausages that we process – it’s impossible that it’s only Portuguese that consume our products,” says Gomes, an FPCBP member. “Once Canadian people – rather than Portuguese – go to Portugal and find those foods and have those rich meals, they come back and look for kale soup, sausage to go with the soup, sausage to roast in the clay pots they see burning on the table – these things appeal to other countries and other ethnicities.”
While Borges Foods Ltd. has achieved success by importing ingredients to produce Portuguese-style food here, Ferma Food Products brings Portuguese flavours to Canadian store shelves in bags, bottles, cans and boxes. Purchased in 1979 by Antonio B. Belas, the company has grown from a seven-employee operation to one with more than 50 today.
“Originally Ferma was only doing business with Portuguese stores in the Toronto area, mom and pop stores,” FPCBP member Belas says. “Slowly we went into different markets … and today we are in the chains – Sobeys, Price Chopper, Loblaws, No Frills, Food Basics … so we are diversified. We’re not only geared toward Portuguese stores.”
But success is not always an easy thing in Canada-Portugal trade; obstacles can and do arise. They can range from a simple lack of knowledge about a particular way of doing things to bridging the sometimes Atlantic-sized gap between the two different business cultures.
After Fernandes had established his agent-supplier relationship with his first wine producer and was ready to place his first order through the LCBO, he had a choice to make – have the LCBO either pick up the order directly from the vineyard, a process called Ex-cellar, or from the seaport, what the LCBO calls FCA.
“I said to my producer, ‘You know what? Let’s try FCA,'” Fernandes remembers. “‘If the LCBO doesn’t have to go pick it up at the vineyard and they only take it from the port, it’ll probably be less expensive.'”
The wine was sent to port via courier, but when the courier arrived, Fernandes says, “we got the surprise of our lives.”
The surprise – 150 euros in fees tacked on to the two-case trial order.
Part of the mission of the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Commission is to help educate businesses on both sides of the Atlantic on the quirks and procedures of trading with one another.
“Both markets are not very important to each other,” Moura says, referring to the relatively small monetary value of trade between Portugal and Canada. “So the knowledge of the market is not huge. We sometimes spend time passing information and educating people about how the market works.”
Moura adds that once that knowledge is there, business runs smoothly.
And with no major bilateral trade issues, vanishing trade barriers in an increasingly globalized world, and easier and quicker modes of communication, Canada-Portugal trade can only continue to grow.
FPCBP 25th Anniversary Commemorative Magazine December, 2006 Page: 58-59 Byline: Philip Alves