Canadian treat trails

Laura Aiken
August 14, 2013
Written by
Food tourism is “the pursuit and enjoyment of unique and memorable food and drink experiences, both far and near,” states the World Food Travel Association (WFTA) on its website. By this definition, one is as much a tourist in a foreign city as in a foreign neighbourhood in one’s own city. In Canada, one can arguably experience a food adventure almost anywhere. Coast to coast, bakeries, cafes, chocolate shops and more are riding the growing tide of food tourism. From British Columbia’s Nanaimo Bar Trail, to Ontario’s Butter Tart Trail, communities far and wide have formed win-win collaborations.

P7-Picnic-River-0239  
A couple take their treats from the Stratford Chocolate Trail to enjoy on the banks of the Avon River. Pictures like this say a thousand words for the trail stakeholders.

 
While it seems natural and common to associate food tourism with all things artisanal and gourmet, some research on food tourists speaks otherwise. The WFTA formerly used the term culinary tourism to describe its industry, but association research showed that the majority of English speaking people surveyed viewed the term culinary as elitist. The association stopped using the phrase in 2012. Only 8.1 per cent of foodies surveyed by the association self-identified with the label “gourmet”.

The WFTA identified 13 categories of PsychoCulinary Profiling that define consumer expectations of a food tourism experience: adventurer, ambience, authentic, budget, eclectic, gourmet, innovative, localist, novice, organic, social, trendy, and vegetarian. Destinations can also have their own profiles. In Canada, Toronto was identified as localist, eclectic and organic, while Vancouver was perceived as authentic, localist and organic. The top destinations for serious cuisine adventurers are Italy, Mexico, France, the Caribbean, Germany and Canada, cites Travel Market Report.  

The World Tourism Organization published the Global Report on Food Tourism in 2012, which stated: “Gastronomic routes are becoming without doubt one of the most developed products in this area. A gastronomic route is a system that constitutes a comprehensive and thematic tourism offering, generally branded, and is an area (although in reality, gastronomy has no borders), with a series of tourism products or sites, such as factories and restaurants, which are listed in tourism guidebooks…”

According the report, food tourism in in a clear growth phase and rests on the backbone of terroir: the landscape, history and values of the area. The report recommended that it is necessary for the food producers to be cooperative and involved in the story that is shaped. The report survey affiliated tourism organization members, who outlined the importance of various food tourism products. Here they are ranked in order of importance: food events (79 per cent); gastronomic routes, cooking classes and workshops (62 percent), food fairs featuring local products (59 per cent), and visits to markets and producers (53 per cent), were all rated highly. Museums and presentations were seen as less important: 12 and 6 per cent respectively.

Chocolate
The Stratford Chocolate Trail in Ontario was formed three years ago. The Stratford Tourism Alliance offers visitors the option to buy a $25 pass of tickets to six of the 20 possible stops the holder can choose on a self-guided tour. Each ticket entitles its bearer to a treat, along with an advertised chance to speak and learn from the areas many chocolate purveyors. The tourism office sells the pass year round.

There are a variety of businesses selling chocolate treats of one kind or another that are on the trail, including tea shops, espresso cafes, general shops and markets as well as dedicated chocolate makers. Trail pass holders can experience a chocolate and wine pairing, have chocolate martinis, lollipops or take home chocolate olive oil. 

The trail is considered a success by the tourism office. Cathy Rehberg, marketing manager for the Stratford Tourism Alliance, estimates that attendance has doubled in size each year since its inception. The chocolate trail’s popularity prompted the tourism alliance to launch a Maple Trail and a Bacon and Ale Trail as well.

Businesses on the trail are expected to provide an item with a retail value of $5 or $6 to the customer, and then return the tickets to the tourism office who will in turn issue them a cheque. Individual business offers are refreshed once a year, usually in time for Mother’s Day, says Rehberg.

The trail is geared for walking, and pass holders have three days to use their tickets. By offering a pass with tickets, Rehberg says they are encouraging people to think about what they want to experience. They have bought something that needs to be redeemed it creates a sense of urgency that encourages them to pursue it.

“What we do is try to facilitate with businesses and find the authentic experiences. This kind of configuration has worked well for us and our partners,” says Rehberg.

Let Them Eat Cake, an established bakery and full service restaurant in Stratford, has been a part of the trail since its inception. Wendy Seguin, chef manager, shared in an email that the trail hasn’t had a big impact on their well established business, but it has the potential to serve newer businesses by drawing customers that may not otherwise visit you. Seguin did know of other businesses in Stratford that had a lot of success with the trail and focused on it.

Butter Tarts
Wellington North in Ontario developed a tourism program called Simply Explore that includes their trademarked “The Butter Tart Trail.” The tourism office’s brochure advertises trail as being one its most popular attractions. The self-guided tour boasts at least a dozen varieties of butter tarts, alongside butter tart themed pottery, scents and dog treats. The tart rail celebrating an iconic Canadian treat has 18 stops and holds key positions within the brochure advertising, including the cover.

Wellington North’s butter tart trail made news recently when the Globe and Mail wrote about a dispute that occurred over a second butter tart promotion in Ontario called the Kawarthas Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. The Globe’s article, called the “The rural Ontario battle over butter tarts” and written by Justin Giovannetti, outlined how Wellington North sent the City of Kawartha Lakes a cease and desist letter over their newly formed butter tart route and lawsuits were considered. 

The Kawarthas Northumberland tourism page dedicated to the butter tart tour calls the area “The Land of 1000 Perfect Butter Tarts” and features more than 30 bakeries selling butter tarts in the region. This trail operates as a self-guided tour and focuses on bakeries by town in the region.

Nanaimo Bar Trail
The Nanaimo bar is an authentically Canuck creation; one that Tourism Nanaimo in B.C. has been sure to celebrate. The self-guided trail offers visitors a chance to try classic, specialty, organic/vegan/raw/gluten-free, and deep-fried Nanaimo bars. There are also ice cream, cheesecake, cupcake, fudge, cake and mousse variations. For the 19 and older set, there are no less than four Nanaimo bar cocktail stops. Visitors can visit a Nanaimo bar museum, and take home Nanaimo bar soap.

This year’s trail highlights 28 stops. The brochure gives a product focus to each business so tourists know they can get a Nanaimo bar cupcake from A Wee Cupcakery before washing it down with a Nanaimo “Bar-tini” at Acme Food Co.

Chelsea Barr, an employee of Tourism Nanaimo, came up with the idea for the trail, which was put together in the summer of 2010 and launched the following year. Many businesses were already offering their own versions of the Nanaimo bar and it seemed a natural fit to package them altogether. 

The trail changes from year to year, says Megan Beauregard, B.TM, program and stakeholder relations coordinator for Tourism Nanaimo, who measure the trail’s success by stakeholder interest.

“This year, we are up 25 per cent from last year and already have requests from folks who didn’t make it on the trail to ensure they have a spot for 2014. Media requests and inquiries have also increased which shows us that the trail is gaining speed and increasing in popularity. The staff here did a bit of the trail last week and when we popped into one of the stops, the staff there said they had been overwhelmed with people coming in and saying they were doing ‘the trail’ – so that right there is proof itself!”

Trails and formal routes just one aspect of the burgeoning food tourism industry. Bakeries, cafes, pastry and chocolate shops can also find promotion through tourism initiatives such as the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance, Alberta Culinary Tourism Alliance, Dine Alberta (which identifies operators using a high percentage of local Alberta product), and PEI Flavours. Sometimes collaborating with the competition is a great way to bring in more business for all.

Cross- country sampling

Here’s a list of some of where to find some of Canada’s treat trails online:

Stratford Chocolate Trail, Ontario
www.visitstratford.ca

The Butter Tart Trail, Ontario
www.simplyexplore.ca

The Butter Tart Tour, Ontario
kawarthasnorthumberland.ca

Nanaimo Bar Trail, British Columbia
www.tourismnanaimo.com

Charlevoix Flavour Trail, Quebec
www.bonjourquebec.com

Burlington Chocolate Trail, Ontario
www.burlingtonchocolatetrail.ca

Le Parcours Gourmand/The Gourmet Route, Quebec
www.parcoursgourmand.com/eng
 


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