Things are the same north of the border, except when they’re different.
SSCS had the pleasure of working with a new customer in New Brunswick, Canada over the past few weeks. It’s an interesting province! For example, it’s the only Canadian province in which both English and French are official languages, giving it a unique, bi-cultural character that extends beyond the English/French product labeling you’ll find on the shelves, the metric system, or the country’s colorful money.
Perhaps we were most taken with the remote beauty of the area, which inspired us to take a number of photos, some of which you’ll find accompanying this post. Located in the most northeastward part of Canada, it’s a quiet place—rural in most spots—where nature still dominates. Given that there are less than 750,000 people spread out over 28,000 square miles, that’s not surprising.
Even in and around the venerable capital city of Fredericton, there was a kind of sereneness that you might not find in other similarly sized towns. “It’s not full of hustle-bustle like you might think a capital would be,” a local told one of our installers, who had never thought much about hustle-bustle, or how much of it a capital should have.
That got us wondering how else this rather remote part of the continent might contrast with our own everyday experiences in the U.S., so we took a few minutes out of our day and talked with the SSCS team that had travelled north of the border. We asked them what impressed them as distinctive or unusual about their experience. Here’s a partial list, scattered with various comments from the team:
- Like most Canadians, residents are big fans of poutine, a French-Canadian dish composed of French fries and fresh cheese curds, covered with gravy. Any quick serve restaurant will have some version of it. National enthusiasm has resulted in any number of poutine flavored convenience store snacks, including chips, soft serve ice cream, sodas, and donuts. If you want, you can view a YouTube video on “How to Profit with Poutine”.
- Poutine isn’t the only far out flavor you’ll find on Canadian convenience store shelves. Some examples are maple, ketchup, cinnamon bun, Canadian bacon pineapple, crab/lobster, and our personal favorite, lamb and mint. “They aren’t so big on spicy stuff, though,” notes one of our installers. “If you’re looking for Red Hot Cheetos, you’re probably out of luck.”
- The store chain we were getting set up sold horse and camel meat. That’s a little different!
- Canada sells milk in bags, up to four liters, and in general seems a little less obsessed with good-looking packaging than the States.
- The concept of beverage deposits and redemptions for returns is much broader in its application, extending far beyond the soda bottle most people think of. We’re talking deposits on milk bags, hard liquor bottles, children’s beverages in laminated foil pouches, small juice boxes—just about anything you can think of. On larger family-sized packages, though, the deposit is almost always waved.
- Canadians don’t use pennies. Retail prices are rounded to the nearest $.05, although U.S. visitors, still attached to the penny as a concept, are accommodated when they pay by credit card or U.S. currency (in the case of money Canadian retailers will adjust the price based on the daily exchange rate).
- With average temperatures plunging to an average that’s near 20° Fahrenheit in winter, and sometimes much colder (especially near the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence which border New Brunswick to the south and east, respectively), the province is more than a little frosty. Its hardy residents remain unfazed, though. “I noticed that it almost becomes a matter of pride among the locals,” says an SSCS technician, “to see how much cold they can withstand. They kind of brag about it.”
- Cigarette packs, which tend to be buried from view in a drawer or other hidden place, come in large packs of 25 or 50. The selection of tobacco products is far more limited, too (no menthols, for one thing). For example, our customers only carried two kinds of smokeless tobacco. Cigars are literally non-existent, only being found at specialty tobacco retailers.
- The sale of liquor is heavily regulated by the government and is mainly available through sanctioned stores. In the whole city of Fredericton there are less than ten of them. Convenience stores can be approved to carry a full complement of liquor products—three of the stores that we installed have them—but it is rare and the approval process is extremely competitive. These stores are known as Agency Liquor Stores.
- And speaking of liquor, where can you find an energy drink or flavored ice tea mixed with vodka? In Canada, of course!
At SSCS, we’ll continue to seek out the unique, interesting aspects of the local areas in which we do business, and capture their characteristics in blogs and in our semi-regular feature, “Postcards from SSCS”.