Why Canada’s Food Guide is about more than nutrition

McCann's strategy and health experts explain why broader cultural insights in the guide apply to marketers across categories.
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By Anna Jean Lloyd and Neill Brown

The new Canada’s Food Guide is a major step forward, not only by addressing the latest science about healthy eating, but also recognizing the contexts in which eating takes place. The new guidelines look at the experiential and environmental impact of eating, as well as evolving views about wellness giving both consumers and brand marketers the chance to determine how best to adapt them into the reality of their lives and businesses.

Eating, for most Canadians, is no longer about sustenance alone. The new guide’s emphasis on factoring in the full cultural and nutritional scope of eating provides an important health pathway for Canadians as well as a range of opportunities for marketers – whether they are in a food-related category or not – to play a meaningful role in people’s lives.

Eating as an experience

The new Canada Food Guide highlights the benefits of where, when and why people eat. This includes encouraging cooking at home more often, eating with others and incorporating cultural cuisines as the basis for nutritious and enjoyable meals.

Though this may seem impractical for many Canadians rushing between jobs and other obligations, the new Canada Food Guide is aligned with our emerging desire to ‘take a beat’ and savor experiences and each other – despite the manic pace of our lives. The way we define wellness, for instance, is increasingly relative to things like ‘quality time with the people I love’ or ‘work life balance.’ The emergence of at-home meal kits as one of the fastest-growing segments in the Canadian marketplace is also testament to this trend, with more and more Canadians opting for the experience of their meal over the convenience of take-out.

What does this mean for brands? As Canadian consumers make trade-offs between time and experience, it’s important for brands to be aware of the occasions and new rituals that are (or are not) open to their products. The #MeatlessMonday movement, for instance, is an example of a social trend that provides an ideal connection for meatless and vegetarian foods to shine – and for meat brands to acknowledge.

Wellness as a human right

Unlike its predecessor, the new Canada Food Guide is conscious of the fact that nutritious choices are often a privilege. The recommendation, for instance, to reduce processed food intake is framed by a cost argument, while food literacy and food planning are explained as cost-control measures. In its long form, the guide even highlights how cost is a very real barrier to eating well for Indigenous and elderly populations.

The recognition of dollars as a determinant of food choice and, in turn, health, is aligned with our changing perception of wellness as a privilege. Gone (or going) are the days of Goop-like health ideals or “Wellness for the 1%.” Instead, the Global Wellness Institute has championed the notion of wellness not as a luxury item, but a fundamental human right.

What does this mean for brands? From fashion to fitness, food and more, brands that aren’t mindful of cost as a barrier to the aspirations they espouse, risk coming off as tone-deaf, or worse. Want to connect with the masses? Consider how your brand can offset the worry of wellness coming at a high expense. One example is including ‘price per serving’ on the label, not just the nutritional information.

Eating as an environmental choice

Also newly introduced into the Guide is the potential impact our food choices have on the environment, emissions and our food supply.

This environmental consciousness mirrors a growing mindset in Canada that goes beyond the “reduce, reuse and recycle” mantra of the 90s. Being green is no longer just about what we put in the bin, but what we put in our bodies, with more people viewing their choices as directly linked to the wellness of their communities and the planet as a whole. Plant-based diets are being popularized as environmental choices, not just personal ones.

What does this mean for brands? As Canadians internalize (literally) the green movement, our Truth About Canadians Study shows that many are looking to brands to give back to the environment meaningfully. This means going green beyond marketing and packaging and making real change. In the fashion industry, for example, initiatives like the ‘CEO Agenda’ are prompting the implementation of sustainable practices, while fast-fashion brands like H&M are offering in-store drop-off locations to minimize clothing waste.

Anna Jean Lloyd is a senior strategist at McCann Canada and Neill Brown is managing director of McCann Health Canada.