Chocolate vs Kale: A look at the Canadian import market

Throughout the month of November, we’ll explore global patterns in agricultural and food trade, and the role Canada plays in that trade. These posts will build on the insights from our recently released trade ranking reports for agriculture and manufactured foodWe examine Canada’s rankings as a world exporter, the commodities in which we have an export advantage, and the opportunities ahead for agriculture and manufactured food exports.


Although there would appear to be no relation between kale, chocolate, crustaceans, and bread, they have one commonality: they are some of Canada’s top agricultural and food imports.

Canada’s leading imports of agricultural commodities and food products have changed only slightly over the last ten years. The same “top ten” list of commodities has remained relatively consistent since 2007, and in all the commodities other than fruit juices, the demand for these products has increased. Some of which have increased by over 120%.

Canada’s top imports continue to grow

Trends in agricultural imports are mostly influenced by consumer preferences and our limited ability to grow these products. The top agricultural imports have all shown significant growth since 2007. Cabbages and kale, other nuts, and dates, figs and pineapples saw the greatest percentage growth over the past ten years (Figure 1). Although it is our 8th largest import, Canada is leading the world in imports of cabbages and kale. 

Figure 1: Demand for top ag imports continues to grow

Source : UN Comtrade Data, September 2017, imports ranked according to value in 2016

In the case of food, it is not unusual to see that we are both an exporter and importer of similar products. This can be explained by the level of differentiation and characteristics embodied in food products. Imports of our top processed foods have increased over the decade (Figure 2). Fruit juice imports is the only exception: they decreased by 6%. The rest of the top 10 products rose at least by 20%. Bread was the highest valued import in 2016 (US$1.44 billion) and interestingly, was also our third highest exported food product of 2016 (US $2.24 billion).

Figure 2: Canadian demand for top food imports continues to grow

Source : UN Comtrade Data, September 2017, imports ranked according to value in 2016

The decrease of imported corn

Of the top agricultural and food products, imports of corn have seen the largest decrease. In 2007, corn was the fourth largest agricultural import, and by 2016, they had fallen to 14th place. This is largely thanks to the 13% increase in Canadian corn production over the decade. As Canadian producers become more competitive in corn production, the need for imports has subsided. 

For the bigger picture, check out our FCC Ag Economics Trade Ranking Reports for agricultural commodities and manufactured food.


Amy Carduner
Agricultural Economist

Amy joined the FCC Ag Economics team in 2017 to monitor agricultural trends and identify opportunities and challenges in the sector. Amy grew up on a mixed farm in Saskatchewan and continues to support the family operation. She holds a Master in Applied Economics and Management from Cornell University and a Bachelor in Agricultural Economics from the University of Saskatchewan.

@ACarduner