Culture Counsel is a monthly column focusing on the intricacies of law through the lens of pop culture and business.
In today’s COVID-19 environment, an interesting shift is emerging, bringing a heightened sense of consumer awareness. Consumers are carefully watching how companies are pivoting during this time. Some businesses are applauded and some are (rightfully) denigrated. When this time of social distancing passes (and it will), consumers will remember how your business acted and they will be keen to either invest in or revolt against your business. Moreover, consumers will likely be more conscious of how they spend their money and, as such, it is important to consider how your actions during this global pandemic may impact your brand in the near future. Here are three of the most essential things to consider while navigating businesses through the pandemic.
1. Support Local Businesses
Once society emerges from social distancing, consumers will likely have a greater interest in supporting local businesses. Maintaining a strong connection to Canada can be a welcome point of differentiation in the marketplace. A ‘Made in Canada’ or ‘Product of Canada’ product label can inject a sense of patriotic pride into the brand.
Consumers become aware that their money is being immediately invested into the Canadian economy. However, it is important to comply with the regulations in order to make these claims.
In a nutshell, ‘Made in Canada’ and ‘Product of Canada’ are the two product labels that can be referenced. Each label however holds different thresholds. A ‘Product of Canada’ claim has a higher threshold of Canadian content (98 percent), whereas a ‘Made in Canada’ claim has a lower threshold of 51 percent, as long as the ‘Made in Canada’ claim is accompanied by a qualifier. A qualifier statement provides information to the consumer about the product and how Canadian it truly is. For example, ‘Made in Canada with imported fabric’. All of this information should be clearly stated on the product’s packaging or labelling.
2. If you Pivot your Business to Address COVID-19 Needs, Comply with the Law
We are seeing businesses pivot in inspiring ways to address the shortcomings of our health care system to help our frontline workers.
For example, the alcohol manufacturing industry is shifting to producing alcohol based sanitizers. The apparel/fashion industry is shifting to produce masks and gowns. The sentiment is beautiful. The readiness and foresight to pivot is heartwarming and impressive. However, be certain that you are complying with all legislation when you make this product pivot. Not only are you dealing with consumer safety issues, you may also be dealing with products that could be classified as medical devices under the Food and Drugs Act. As much as there is a dire need for these sanitizers and personal protective equipment, there is a greater need that they be functional and safe.
3. Do NOT Take Advantage of the Situation
There have been instances of businesses hiking their prices for necessary products, such as disinfectants, at exorbitant prices. We say this from a humanity standpoint, a corporate branding standpoint and, as always, from a legal standpoint, do NOT do this.
The Competition Act governs aspects of trade and commerce in Canada. Whereas it is rooted in protecting healthy business competition in Canada, it is also protective of the consumer in some aspects. It addresses price fixing and deceptive marketing practices. Moreover, the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act enables fines to be issued for unconscionable pricing. Being opportunistic in a time like this, will not push you forward in the long run.