Shipping Food to Canada

It’s not easy to ship perishable goods, especially internationally. But as the Canadian consumer market continues to grow, direct-to-consumer (DTC) brands have no choice but to adapt. Between Canadian import regulations, navigating duties & taxes, and avoiding spoilage, there are plenty of hurdles to jump through. Not to mention, you have to do all of this while shipping food & beverages quickly and at a low cost for both you & the customer.

That’s why we put together this guide on shipping food to Canada from the United States. We’re DTC founders ourselves, and want to help you avoid the same pitfalls that plagued us. Join us as we journey across borders to safely deliver your perishable goods.

How to Effectively Ship to Canada

Selecting the Right Shipping Partner

The right shipping partner is critical in eCommerce, especially for perishable goods brands. And though cost is the first measure of a good provider, there are other things to consider like reliability, reputation, customer service, communication, and overall experience.

ShipFare’s all-in-one shipping aggregator can help you organize shipments and consolidate everything to one platform, while helping you get the best live rate and even spoilage protection on every order.

Transit Time and Shipping Speed

In the age of Amazon, consumers have become accustomed to next-day (or even same-day) delivery. So even though you don’t have the same mass delivery network, speed needs to be a priority in your logistics operation. ShipFare can help you reduce shipping times by coordinating pickup management and identifying the most efficient routes, even using local courier services in Canada.

Managing the Cold Chain for Perishable Goods

Clearly, you can’t ship perishable goods in a poly mailer or standard cardboard box. Instead, you’ll need to use insulated solutions like foam coolers, mylar or eco-friendly insulators with heavy duty corrugated boxes. These will maintain the ideal food storage temperature during transit and while waiting in Customs.

Depending on the type & volume of food you’re shipping to Canada, you will need to add ice packs or dry ice as coolants to guarantee freshness upon arrival. Keep in mind when using anything more than 5.5 lbs of dry ice, your package MUST be properly labeled for dry ice. With ShipFare, we make compliant dry ice labeling a breeze with our automations and built-in safeguards.

Dry ice is a hazardous material and is regulated by both the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA). If your package with more than 5.5 lbs of dry ice is not properly labeled on the outside of the box, carriers may flag or suspend your shipping account after even just one violation.

We recommend using sustainable insulation options that are made from biodegradable or recyclable materials, which can bolster your brand’s sustainability image.

Furthermore, you’ll want to ensure that you research your selected carrier’s temperature control technology, standards, and assurances. This is especially important if you’re shipping refrigerated food across the continental US to Canada. It will likely travel through warmer locations, and if the temperature controls fail, the food will spoil long before it reaches the border.

Expect Customs Delays

Customs delays are simply a part of the international shipping process. But if you complete all required documentation accurately & promptly, you can significantly reduce the possibility of a delay. ShipFare offers international customs compliance that can automate & expedite the process through our own established relationships with carriers and customs authorities.

Make sure to clearly define responsibilities for delays in your shipping contracts and choose carriers that offer guaranteed delivery windows, even when customs issues arise. Regularly track your shipments and communicate proactively with your carrier to address any issues early. By taking these steps, you mitigate the risk of spoilage due to delays and maintain your brand’s reputation for timely delivery.

Tracking and Customer Communication

Your customers & vendors like to be informed, meaning that automated tracking updates and clear communication strategies are a necessity. You should notify them via email or SMS to eliminate uncertainty and minimize the amount of customer service tickets that say: “Where is my package?”

Clearly define your shipping timelines (and other pertinent information) on your website and in the purchase confirmation that you send the customer. Provide them with a tracking number so they can track on their own as well.

ShipFare includes a variety of customizable post-purchase notifications and even branded tracking pages that normally cost hundreds of dollars per month from outside applications who offer that as a service. We believe post-purchase experience is crucial for customer satisfaction and even conversion rate optimization.

Unfortunately, shipping food to Canada is not as simple as packaging it and dropping it off at Fedex or UPS. There are a handful of regulations you must address first.

Understanding Canadian Import Regulations

Import Permits and Licenses

Before you ship a single item, you need to familiarize yourself with Canada’s import regulations. Chief among these is the Safe Food for Canadians License (SFCL), which is mandatory for all food importers, though there are exceptions. You can quickly find out if you’re exempt with a 5-minute questionnaire, which you can find on the website.

If you have to apply, you should do so well in advance of your first shipment. The cost is $250 CAD ($185 USD) and you’ll need to provide the following:

Complying with Canadian Food Safety Regulations

Your products must align with the Safe Food for Canadians Regulations (SFCR). The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is the governing body ensuring these regulations are met, focusing on food safety practices and traceability. Most of the regulations are pretty straightforward, but make sure you vet them thoroughly before launching & scaling your shipping operation.

Labeling Requirements

Canada has strict labeling requirements, which vary based on the type of food you’re exporting, and which include bilingual standards (English and French). This is more of a concern if you plan on wholesaling your products to Canadian retailers. This is not a requirement if you are shipping direct to consumer (DTC).

Here are the label requirements, courtesy of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Core Labeling Requirements

Claims and statements

Specific labeling requirements

Harmonized System (HS) Codes

The HS code is a standardized numbering system for products, used by customs authorities. You can easily find yours in under a minute via the Canada Post. Just enter a few details about your perishable goods and you’ll have an up-to-date HS code in seconds.

Calculating Duties and Taxes

Canadian Customs Duties, Sales Tax, and Excise Tax are all costs you need to factor in. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) can offer significant savings, but leveraging this requires a deep understanding of the regulations.

One last note of advice; keep records of everything you ship, especially internationally to Canada. Government agencies may require it and you’ll want to have those records in the event that something is lost, missing, or damaged.

Shipping food to Canada is no small feat, but it’s a necessary adaptation for perishable DTC brands. ShipFare, rooted in our own experiences as DTC founders, can smooth your path across our northern border. We can fast-track much of the permits, licenses, and other Customs regulations you would otherwise need, as ShipFare is already established with the CFIA. With us, you’ll be able to ship food & beverages properly labeled, in compliance, and insured at the best rates. And with ShipFare, you can manage the entire process from one central platform.

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