Cara said it sees a major opportunity to tap the experience St-Hubert has built up in selling to grocers for its other brands like Swiss Chalet. This makes sense. However, Cara should know that when Québec grocery shoppers pick up a can of St-Hubert sauce, they're also taking home a source of pride rooted in history and comforting rituals.
With the purchase, Cara gets Quebec’s number one full-service restaurant chain, which it considers a platform to expand its other brands into the province. It also gets a retail business that makes restaurant-branded food for purchase in groceries as well as two factories – currently working at about half capacity – that are ripe for developing comestibles.
Perhaps more importantly, however, it gets that which can rarely be bought: A deep pool of emotional capital that comes from 65 years of consumer loyalty.
Started by Hélène and René Léger in 1951, the franchise chicken chain is so ubiquitous in its home province that its 1960s jingle is still recognizable to most Quebeckers. Its restaurants are community gathering places, its meal packs staples on election campaign buses.
As Eric Blais of strategic marketing firm Headspace Marketing Inc. puts it, St-Hubert’s secret sauce goes far beyond the actual sauce, famed chicken and creamy coleslaw.
“Drive through any small town across Quebec and you’ll see a church, a caisse populaire [credit union] and a St-Hubert,” Mr. Blais said. “You’ll also see a busy Tim Hortons. They’re local and, like Cheers, everyone knows your name.”
Rona may have been struggling in recent years but it remained a jewel and a source of pride for Québec Inc. This pride in being Québécois (and Canadian) ran deep. And Rona flaunted it to differentiate itself from U.S.-owned competitors.
In the days following the announcement that Lowe's was acquiring Rona, signs in and out of stores were still up touting Rona's Canadian pride.
We offer a wide selection of Canadian products.
Because we are proud of being a Canadian-owned company.
Shop at Rona and you'll be served by "The Canadian How To People".
I leave it to others (including Québec's opposition parties) to debate whether or not this is further evidence of a disturbing trend of Québec-based companies being sold to foreign interests. For marketers, this change in ownership raises questions from a branding and positioning standpoint. Lowe's has indicated that it intends to maintain the Rona name. As it loses its ability to stress its Canadian ownership and leverage this as a differentiator, will the Rona brand be weakened? Does it matter that a retailer is a proud Canadian?
Country-of-origin does matter, in some cases. Empirical studies conducted over several years suggest that when consumers are aware of certain country characteristics, they are more inclined to use country-of-origin as an external cue in evaluating product quality; think Swiss watches, German engineering, French wines, or Italian garments. However, most studies on the impact of country-of-origin on purchase decisions have been conducted on status and image-oriented products.
Do contractors and do-it-yourselfers care that a drill, a light fixture or roofing shingles are made in Canada? Some might. Studies on country-of-origin have demonstrated that it matters to consumers with ethnocentric belief systems. These consumers are more likely to select locally made products and likely rate their country's products more favourably than those made in foreign countries. In the food sector, many consumers view locally produced or grown products more favourably. For example, the designation Aliments du Québec has become an important brand cue in Québec’s grocery stores. While country-of-origin may matter to some consumers particularly for some product categories like apparel, many researchers believe that the biases are fading as globalization, outsourcing, alliances, technological advancements and other country-specific factors change the image and product quality of many countries.
If the perceived quality of Canadian products isn't a strong differentiator, could corporate ownership be? Again, it's unlikely. Take Canada Goose. The iconic Canadian brand was sold to U.S. private equity giant Bain Capital in 2013. It's doubtful that even those who are willing to pay close to a thousand dollars for an Expedition Parka care about the company's ownership. "We’re authentic and we’re real and we’re made in Canada.” declared Dani Reiss, the chief executive officer and grandson of the company’s founder to the Globe and Mail. He added “I think the market’s tough out there, but we’re committed to manufacturing in Canada.”
That's when corporate social responsibility intersects with branding as CSR becomes a bigger shaper of corporate identities. Lowe’s commitment to keep the Rona name in Québec and a head office in Boucherville, Que., and not to shed jobs in the province is now part of the brand. And it matters.
Walmart learned this the hard way twenty years ago when, citing financial reasons, it closed its store in Jonquière near Chicoutimi, Que. after it became the first Walmart in Canada to vote to become unionized. Quebeckers boycotted Walmart en masse. Reputation surveys by Léger Marketing at the time revealed that positive predispositions to Walmart among Québec shoppers had dropped from 71% in 2004 to just 11% after the store closure in 2005. Today Walmart has regained Quebeckers' respect. One of the main reason was the creation in 2006 of the "buy Québec" program that clearly identified products purchased but not necessarily manufactured in Québec. Walmart also prominently featured a Québec supplier of the month in its stores' entrance.
Perhaps as a way to signal to Rona that it intended to enter the Québec market in one way or another, Lowe's made it known last year that it was meeting with Québec suppliers to understand what products they could offer. Whatever the real intention was, it would suggest that Lowe's management understands the value of "buying in Québec". In fact, some of these suppliers might see their market expand given Lowe's North American footprint and the value of the Canadian dollar. Customers may also see lower prices. And employees may have a more stable employer.
Rona may no longer be a proud Canadian but it would be wise to keep acting like one.
According to a survey by digital offers site RetailMeNot, 74 per cent of Canadians in a relationship don't care about receiving material gifts on Valentine's Day, and more than half (53 per cent) prefer sex to a gift. Canadians prefer to spend money on the experience, with dinner at a restaurant being the number one way lovers will be celebrating this February 14.
Judging by this display this week at a Metro grocery store in Montréal, some Quebeckers might also mark the day with dinner at home over a hot pot of Chinese fondue - a kind of French-style hot pot; thinly sliced meat cooked in a beef broth, seasoned with onions, herbs. It's all there, including the fondue pot, the broth, and the fuel.
Gift cards are an increasingly common stocking stuffer, on which Canadians spend an estimated $6-billion a year. And judging by this ad for drugstore Jean Coutu appearing in yesterday's issue of the free daily 24 h, Quebeckers have plenty of options to choose from.
However, according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Reid last summer, Quebeckers appear to be significantly less likely than Canadians in the ROC to buy or receive gift cards. 72% of all Canadians claim to have bought or received at least one gift card in the past year compared to 64% of Quebeckers.
A refund obligation
There is also a difference in terms of the regulatory framework. In June, 2010 Quebec's Consumer Protection Act implemented legislation designed to protect purchasers of gift cards. The merchant must refund to the consumer, upon request, an amount equal to the balance on the card when the balance is lower than $5.00. The refund obligation – which does not have a parallel in any other province – is designed to prevent consumers from having to choose between losing the balance on their prepaid cards and overspending - except for a mobile telephone card or a prepaid credit card.
You might be familiar with the television show Chef in Your Ear on the Food Network - the reality competition series in which chefs vie to see which of them is able to coach a completely clueless cook through preparing a restaurant-quality dish without setting foot in the kitchen with the newbie. The chefs watch the rookie on a monitor from a remote booth and communicate instructions only via an earpiece.
A similar concept was adapted for a French-speaking audience in Québec. The show is called Un chef à l'oreille and airs on Friday evenings on Radio-Canada.
The show's premise is that "delicious fun happens when two extremes come together: talented chefs and kitchen rookies". Clueless cooks keep viewers watching as much as, if not more than, learning serious cooking skills from top chefs.
It might do just fine in Québec but the show's producers might face a different challenge in Québec.
Quebeckers are likely not as clueless in the kitchen.
According to findings from our What Québec Wants study in 2014, French-speaking Quebeckers are more likely to agree with the following statements than English-speaking Canadians in the ROC, and also, in most cases, than English-speaking Quebeckers.
French-speaking Quebeckers might find that having a chef whisper in their ears is just a nuisance.
According to an Ipsos Reid poll conducted on behalf of Historica Canada, most Canadians continue to mark Remembrance Day in traditional ways:
79% of Canadians will wear a poppy in the lead up to Remembrance Day
77% of Canadians will observe two minutes of silence at 11 o’clock on November 11th
The percentages are significantly lower in Québec.
[Findings from an Ipsos Reid poll conducted between October 22 and October 26, 2015. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians from Ipsos' online panel was interviewed online.]
This CBC News article about a survey for Veterans Affairs Canada conducted in 2012 offers an explanation.
Quebecers may view veterans, military past differently
Jeremy Diamond, director of the Historica-Dominion Institute, said that while participation and appreciation for veterans lags behind in Quebec, he senses an upward trend.
"When it comes to military history and remembrance, I think that we often feel that in Quebec there is still quite a sensitivity about commemorating and celebrating the military, whether it’s anniversaries or our veterans, partly to do with the conscription crisis, partly because I think Quebec sees itself more focused on honouring the veterans in Quebec, as opposed to a national recognition, or as part of a week that would affect all Canadians," Diamond said.
A subsample survey that asked Quebecers to explain the disparity found that pacifism, a preferred focus on province-specific pride issues like language and identity, and a lack of connection to military through family members were some of the reasons.