Pelican kayaks, Romeo’s Gin spirits, pork from Olymel and maple syrup. If all these products are in a store near you, they are also available, far from here… in the aisles of Costco stores in Japan.
At least that’s what Quebec Agriculture Minister André Lamontagne said during a trade mission to Japan in early March. And in light of the discussions he had there with Costco executives, other products from here may well be appearing in the retailer’s stores, which has a total of 31 warehouses there. Mr. Lamontagne even goes so far as to qualify this stay as a “paid trip”.
“I saw alcoholic beverages, maple products, pork, kayaks, said the minister during an interview with La Presse on his return from Japan. [In Tokyo], I had a good chat with the president of Costco there [Ken Theriault] and we were almost running in the aisles because he wanted to show me left and right products that come from us “, he says, laughing.
Mr. Theriault is from Saskatchewan, while Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Howard Tulk is from Newfoundland. “Initially, these are people who have a favorable bias for Canadian companies. They are looking for products that stand out, that have stories. We have a lot of products in Quebec that have stories behind them. »
For Nicolas Duvernois, head of Duvernois Esprits Créatives, the company behind Romeo’s Gin, the Japanese market “offers a showcase and opens the door to the rest of Asia”. His gin is absent from the displays in Costcos in Quebec, since the sale of spirits is prohibited in grocery stores, but his product is offered in a two-bottle package in those of Japan, he confirms on the phone. Romeo’s Gin made their debut there a few months before the start of the pandemic. COVID-19 has put a brake on the export of its products to Japanese soil. “But there, the activities are revived. The Japanese are exceptional spirits enthusiasts and creators,” he points out.
The duBreton company, which specializes in the slaughtering and processing of pork, has already made its mark in the Land of the Rising Sun, with its organic minced meat.
At the head of Prana, a company known for its cereals, granola bars and other cookies produced with organic ingredients, Marie-Josée Richer also claims to have lived the experience of Costco in Japan in 2019. She assures that she would be ready to put that back. ” It’s certain ! Who would say no to that? laughs Mrs. Richer. It’s really a great clientele. »
“We sell at Costcos in Korea, Ireland, Spain, France. It’s about rotation. It is an agreement that we make with them for a certain number of units. »
In addition, other products from here could soon make their way into Costco warehouses in Japan. As part of the trade mission, nearly twenty Quebec agri-food businesses and organizations accompanied the Minister. The delegation notably participated in Foodex, the largest food and beverage trade show in Asia-Pacific. The event was held in Tokyo. Signé Caméline, whose oils are already sold in grocery stores in Japan, Emblème Cranberry and Citadelle, a cooperative of maple syrup producers, were among the participating companies. These are not all aspiring to enter Costco, but to break into the Japanese market.
Following his discussions with Mr. Theriault, André Lamontagne invited the big boss of Costco and his team to meet the Quebec companies present at Foodex. “They came back several times during the day to our booth,” recalls Martin Lavoie, President and CEO of the Quebec-Canada Agri-Food Export Group, who was also on the trip. They are very open. This is something that opens the door wide for future opportunities. »
“I saw opportunities for two of our entrepreneurs,” adds Mr. Lamontagne, while refusing to reveal their identity at this time. “I was seeing matches. »
Excited by his visit, the minister is working on organizing another meeting with the leaders of Japanese Costco. This will likely take place in Quebec “over the next few weeks or months to see if there are any other business [opportunities] that we could generate”.