How to sell more salt

It’s a marketing triumph to increase salt sales when Canadians eat too much of the stuff.

Specialty salts

Specialty salts

We’re supposed to limit salt to 2,300 milligrams a day. Instead we consume 3,400. The Harper government created a task force to study the problem and they came up with recommendations. Then government replaced the task force with a panel. That one was criticized for having too many ties to the food industry. Predictably, the panel recommendations were more industry-friendly than health-conscious.

Health Canada was then instructed by the Harper government, I think it’s fair to suppose, to make regulations to the food industry voluntary.

To no one’s surprise, voluntary regulations don’t work. Average salt levels didn’t decrease, reports Carly Weeks (Globe and Mail, April 27, 2016). A few foods where it did decrease was cause for the food industry to claim that they were making “significant progress.”

Time will tell whether the Trudeau government will get serious about regulating the food industry. It was one of their campaign promises.

Selling more salt when your product is so vilified may seem like trying to increase cigarette sales. The trick is to find where salt is controlled by consumers. It turns out that we don’t control most of the salt we consume.

Most of the salt comes from packaged foods: 77 per cent. Only 6 per cent is added while cooking and another 5 per cent is added at the table. (I don’t put a salt shaker on the table. I figure it’s an insult to my cooking when guests add salt.)

The market, then, is in the 6 per cent that the cook adds and the 5 per cent (unwisely) put on the table. Windsor Salt, one of Canada’s oldest brands, is giving itself a more “premium” image reports Susan Krashinsky (Globe and Mail, April 28, 2016.)

Windsor’s vice-president of sales and marketing explains the strategy: “Now, we see a trend where the consumer is willing to pay more for salt with different features.”

Image is important: Windsor has made small changes to the design of the package. These changes may seem trivial but they’re based on research. The changes were tested on subjects in which illustrations, called planograms, of salt packages on store shelves where shown to test subjects. Designs that were most eye-catching were used.

Another tactic is table appeal. A Windsor marketer states: “Our goal is to be on the table with that bottle of wine, and the nice cheese that the consumer is buying.”

It’s working. Specialty salts now make up one-half the retail salt market in Canada. More shelf space is being given these salts. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver sells his own line of salt grinders including Mediterranean sea salt, pink Himalayan salt, and thyme, lemon and bay salt.

Salt sales are up: on a tonnage basis by 2 per cent and on a dollar basis, 11 per cent. Salty snack sales are up. A Neilson researcher says: “Even though consumers are concerned about health and wellness, the salty snack category is doing really well.”

It’s a triumph of marketing over good sense and lack of regulation.

Even without the details, one thing about the TPP remains constant

We don’t know much about the Trans-Pacific Partnership that the Conservatives recently signed except that it will replace North American Free Trade Agreement.

TPP

As a trading nation, Canadians generally favour trade agreements. Last year, an Angus Reid poll showed 68 per cent in favour of a trade deal with Europe.

We favour of trade deals while being woefully ignorant of the details; sometimes in the dark about their very existence. In the case of the TPP, Environics showed that 75 per cent didn’t even know what the TPP was; let alone that the Conservatives were negotiating it on our behalf.

This blind faith in the concept of trade agreements often leads us into a blissful unawareness. One principle about the TPP will likely remain constant: private tribunals will replace our courts when it comes to disagreements.

That’s what the Investor–State Dispute Settlement provision does under NAFTA. I would hazard a guess that few Canadians are even aware of the ISDS provision under Chapter 11.

ISDS allows foreign investors to settle disputes with governments through binding private arbitration instead of Canadian courts. Yes, governments can be dictated to by arbitrators. Why would governments give up such a mandate of their power? The Monitor magazine explains:

“The dubious rationale for granting this extraordinarily sweeping right to foreign investors was that the Mexican courts of the day were prone to corruption and political interference.”

If that were a valid justification, Mexico should be on the receiving end of corporate claims. In fact, Mexico has only had a few while Canada has had the most.

“Canada has faced 36 ISDS claims, more than any other developed country in the world, and since 2005 we’ve been hit by 70% of all NAFTA investor lawsuits.”

One of those claims against Canada came in March this year after ExxonMobil’s Canadian subsidiary won $17.3 million in damages after challenging requirements that they dedicate a tiny percentage (0.33%) of their revenues to research and development, education and training in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“But what is especially galling about this case is that Exxon, along with every other company active in the offshore oil sector, had explicitly agreed to abide by provincial R&D commitments.”

In 2010, the federal government had to pay AbitibiBowater $130-million to settle an ISDS complaint after former premier Danny Williams’ expropriation of the company’s mill. Williams said that the owners had broken the lease agreement by walking away from mill, leaving 800 unemployed.

The Harper government tried to weasel out of paying the settlement claiming that the province had caused the problem. More likely, it was an attempt to punish William’s for his lack of Tory support. The last time I looked, Newfoundland is still part of Canada and since NAFTA applies to Canada, it applies to Newfoundland. If the offending province were Alberta, Harper probably would not have complained.

Most of the talk around the TPP has been whether car parts will hurt and beef parts will prosper. Don’t hold your breath waiting to hear how Canada will be dictated to by corporations through private tribunals held in secret.

Cuts to CRA encourage tax avoidance

It’s a familiar pattern: talk tough and do nothing. The Harper government says that they want to crack down on tax evaders; all the while they cut 3,000 positions from the very agency that could investigate. To top that, they fail to pass legislation that would plug loopholes.

tax

To enable tax avoidance, the Harper government signed a treaty in 2011 with Bermuda to allow Canadians to transfer money there and transfer tax-free dividends back, reports Paul Weinberg in the CCPA Monitor.

For appearances sake, the finance minister made a trip to Bermuda in 2013 to assure fellow G8 countries that Canada was on board in the effort to close tax loopholes.

It’s fine to talk tough but actions speak louder. Alain Deneault, professor at The University of Quebec discloses that Canada is complicit in sheltering tax avoiders in his soon to be released book Canada, A New Tax Haven: How the Country that Shaped Caribbean Tax Havens is Becoming One Itself.

While researching his book, Professor Deneault found inside sources that exposed the government’s hypocrisy.  “Officially, Canada shows solidarity with other western countries about tackling tax avoidance. I have informants in other countries, people whom I talk to when I travel, and they say that Canada, in the meeting rooms, is also always fighting against any kind of proposal that would make it difficult for corporations to use tax havens.”

It’s not just big Canadian corporations that are avoiding taxes. Court documents recently obtained by the CBC reveal that a wealthy Victoria family paid virtually no tax over a span of eight years in a sham cooked up by one of the most respected accounting firms, KPMG Canada.

The Canadian Revenue Agency found that that between 2002 and 2010, the Victoria family paid little or no tax, despite receiving nearly $6 million from an offshore company. KPMG lawyers claim any money the family received were “gifts” and therefore non-taxable.

KPMG must have felt emboldened by the inaction of the Harper government. The feds were essentially signaling to KPMG that despite the tough talk, this kind of dodge was OK.

Imagine the number of tax avoiders that Canada Revenue Agency could find if they were properly staffed?

While other G8 countries are tightening up laws to reduce tax avoidance, Canada’s net to catch cheaters has holes in it big enough for a whale to swim through.

NDP tax critic, Murray Rankin, tried to pass a private members bill that would tighten the net and bring Canada up to par with the tougher approach to tax cheats taken by the U.S.  It failed to receive government support.

“Murray Rankin’s bill is right on,” says Robert McMechan, a former general counsel in the tax litigation section of the Department of Justice. He’s seen too many “complicated corporate transactions where money goes around a circle and nothing of real economic substance occurs.”

I gladly pay my taxes, not just because the money is well spent in the services and infrastructure I receive in return, but as investment in the kind of Canada I believe in. It’s too bad the Harper government isn’t of the same mind.

Something is broken but not our copyright law.

May I offer some advice, Prime Minister? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You don’t need a new law in order to take news video and use it for your attack ads. The right already exists. Everyone agrees that current copyright law permits such use without authorization from broadcasters.

attack ad

By poking a stick at broadcasters, you just get their backs up. The tone of your cabinet memo, intercepted by CTV, makes some irritating presumptions.

“Broadcasters, newspaper and periodical publishers, and ‘news’ photographers will vehemently claim that their work is being unfairly targeted for the benefit of political parties … [the proposed copyright exemption] would allow free use of ‘news’ content in political advertisements intended to promote or oppose a politician or political party, or a position.”

When you use the word “news” in quotes, it suggests that photographers are not professionally presenting the news but are just out to get you. It might seem that way after you spent all that money on attack ads trying to portray Liberal leader Trudeau as the prince of pot as his popularity grows.

It’s not news reporters who are responsible for Trudeau’s popularity. Something about your methods are fundamentally flawed.

Your proposed legislation is an attack on freedom of the press. One constitutional lawyer, Errol Mendes, feels that it’s such an abuse of power that he is willing to argue the case for free.

Broadcasters already have their backs up. In May, CTV, CBC, Global and Rogers sent a letter to all federal and provincial parties serving notice that they would no longer “accept any political advertisement which uses our content without our express authorization.”

Can’t you see that broadcasters resent your use of their material because makes them seem to be a part of your propaganda machine?

As a free-market supporter, you must understand that broadcasters are free to accept or reject your attack ads. And your proposed legislation runs contrary to your fundamental beliefs that government should regulate the marketplace. Yet your memo dictates: “during an election, broadcasters must provide a certain amount of advertising time to political parties.”

The optics are bad. You propose to pass this unnecessary legislation as yet another “Trojan horse” where you bury it deep in a budget bill and hope we won’t notice. Well, people are getting wise to this tactic. Why remind them of past attempts to circumvent parliament?

Yes, something about your attacks is broken. Even though your ads have worked well in the past against ex-Liberal leader Stéphane Dion: “Not Worth the Risk.” The characterization of former Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff with the caption “just visiting” was effective.

But the attack ads against the new Liberal leader Justin Trudeau are backfiring. One-half of viewers who saw your ads suggesting Trudeau is “in over his head” told pollsters they were more likely to vote Liberal.

Here’s a novel idea. Tell voters why they should vote for you. You could even try being nice, even if it risks the public perception that aliens have abducted the real Stephen Harper and replaced him with the new, nicer you.