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Celebrating The Local Food Movement And Canada's Place In It

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NA via Getty Images
NA via Getty Images

Kale, quinoa and pulses -- they've all had their fifteen minutes of food fame. Food trends come and go, but when a trend evolves and starts to have a lasting impact on business and the economy, it becomes a movement. That's what's happening with local food in Canada.

In my role as "Ms. Food Tourism" at the Culinary Tourism Alliance (CTA), I've seen the local food "trend" become a national food movement, and the impact of this cannot be underestimated.

Our food-obsessed culture is more interested than ever in sourcing their food locally, and local food experiences have become one of the primary travel motivators. Through a comprehensive study, we discovered the rise of food tourism is driven by the values of the modern consumer, specifically millennials, who look for immersive travel experiences.

This is one of the reasons that food tourism continues to gain momentum across the globe. It's why global administrations, such as the UN World Tourism Organization, are bringing people together from all over the world to work in food tourism. Canada is one of the countries at the forefront of food tourism, as our research shows that Ontario has emerged as one of the top three local food tourism leaders worldwide.

I've seen dozens of regions invest in food tourism strategies across Ontario and beyond. The results have led to more engaged communities and some seriously delicious experiences. Places you wouldn't think to visit are now hosting travellers all year long, and others that were known for theatre or sports or nature now have ways to make you come back. It's the local food -- and drink!

But don't just take my word for it -- consider data from the TAMS survey, which revealed that compared to a generic tourist, the food tourist spends three times more on dining, seven times more on wineries and 40 per cent more on hotel accommodations.

So, why has food tourism blown-up in recent years? There are a few trends contributing to the boom, one of which is that people simply want to enjoy the yummy fruits of the region they're exploring by tasting, sipping and savouring the local spirits, produce and specialty dishes. Culinary trails are another emerging trend contributing to the rise of food tourism, with tourists eating their way through these food and beverage theme trails, which has seen significant growth in Canada.

From the Niagara wine route to the Dumpling Trail in Richmond, B.C., these mostly self-guided tours continue to crop up across the country. It's why provinces like New Brunswick, who have previously not had a food tourism strategy, are now working with restaurateurs and taste experiences to build their local food identity.

Other food and beverage movements, like the proliferation of craft beer and breweries, also entice food tourists and are having a huge impact on tourism. Last year alone, Ontario generated more than $69 million in craft beer sales and these hoppy libations continue to be one of the fastest growing categories in the beverage sector.

As Canada's food tourism sector continues to grow, we want to inspire Canadians to be proud of our culinary offerings and food heritage.

These trends are helping to grow Canada's local food movement, which is a really good thing for us. Research shows that in Ontario eating local has a three to one impact on the local economy, while every bottle of VQA Ontario wine consumed generates $12.29 of value to the provincial economy.

Sourcing local isn't always easy. Two of the biggest barriers to sourcing locally include a disconnect between producers and restaurants and education for those in the industry, making it difficult for consumers to know what's available and producers to know what's in demand. It's why programs like our Feast On program, which couple local farmers and artisans with restaurant owners, are important to the local food movement. Restaurant owners supported by this program alone helped funnel $14 million back into the local economies, a pretty impactful number, if you ask me.

We have strong agricultural sectors in Canada, and we need to educate our locavore foodies and the general public about Canada's unique tastes. The Ontario Food Tourism Summit, which CTA organizes in partnership with the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario, is a great place for those in the food industry to learn about food trends, the food tourism sector and the future of the local food movement. Teaching industry tastemakers will better inform food tourism strategies, help restaurant owners source locally and ultimately, benefit the local economies.

As Canada's food tourism sector continues to grow, we want to inspire Canadians to be proud of our culinary offerings and food heritage. Having our own unique food identity has been something that I think we as a nation haven't really celebrated -- our food culture is a mosaic! It's exciting that we're now carving out a niche for ourselves as one of the world leaders in the local food movement. We see this happening as local products/restaurants, such as Langdon Hall Country House Hotel & Spa, are receiving recognition with acknowledgements like the University of Guelph's Good Food Innovation Award.

I love Canadian grown food and I want our country to be at the forefront of the food tourism industry. Whether it's learning more about the local food movement or vowing to eat more delicious meals at restaurants who only source locally -- what will you do to become part of the movement?

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