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Deliciously Helpful Tips From A & A Experts on Importing Food

We’ve outlined some ways and areas a great customs broker can make life easier for companies reliant on food importing. We know this from our decades of experience, and from the mouths of some of our long-standing food importing clients.

Personal and high-touch customer service with your individual broker is one positive piece of feedback we hear, time and again. If you have any hot button queries you’d like them to answer that are unique to your food importing business, you can always reach out to them directly.

Sometimes food import laws, processes, and requirements change, and A & A aren’t informed by the CFIA, so we have to stay proactive and vigilant. One recent example was meat importation. Had our agents not been actively monitoring trends and changes, our customers may have suffered. By staying proactive, we avoid instances like that. Unadvertised changes within both the US and Canadian governments are commonplace. It is our proactive approach that keeps our clients happy and staying with us, many for decades.

Who They Are & How They Can Help Your Food Importing Business

We interviewed some of A & A’s senior brokers on their biggest red flags when it comes to importing food. We spoke with:

  • Carla Parkes, FDA expert, especially when it comes to “unique products”,
  • Lisa McLaughlin, an expert in the minutiae of food importing with the CFIA, and on ensuring clients are aware of food licenses, permits, and surety bonds & setting them up (if applicable).
  • Liz Smith, an expert in providing EDI capabilities for the Canadian side of the border and Zipments program for the USA side,

What Are Things To Watch Out For That Your Broker Should Know About?

  • Trade wars – like the many imposed under Donald Trump
  • Shortages of certain food items which can affect your goods’ value and bottom line (which can happen unannounced with supply chain crises)
  • Newly banned goods
  • Changes in packaging rules
  • Whether your food samples are subject to additional time and costs for clearance
  • Accurate classification and CFIA requirements

Getting to know the A & A Customs Brokers Food Experts

Knowing who you’re working with is one of the best ways to build trust and gain peace of mind. We have a tight-knit team of experts at A & A, and we’ve gathered some tips from our leading experts in food importing.

Carla Parkes

An FDA expert who knows the ins and outs of food importing

Carla is an FDA expert based out of Blaine, Washington. As A & A’s Operations Manager, she’s seen it all. When it comes to importing food, Carla shared,

“Some ‘unique’ products, like nutritional supplements, often require extra time and FDA paperwork. Management of these ‘novel’ products typically need to be almost ‘micromanaged’, which is one of the times in food importing where we really like to step in and take over for our clients.” She emphasized that seemingly simple things, like samples of food products can actually take months. That makes daily quality updates to clients and border officials, alike, all that more important. At A & A, we’ve worked with Vega, a natural food company with the finest of nutritional supplements, and experiences we’ve gained from their trials and tribulations have really helped us help our clients get ‘unique’ importing down to a science.

Our client testimonials speak for themselves.

From Scott Henry of Vega,

“I want to thank you for the support over the years. The growth we are enjoying cannot happen without great partners such as yourself!”

Lisa McLaughlin, Account Executive

Lisa is a CCS certified customs broker, based in Surrey, BC. Her knowledge of importing food on both sides of the Canadian and US borders is a main reason why so many of our clients lean on A & A for their food importing needs.

“Our diverse portfolio of food importing clients, coupled with the longevity of these relationships has given us so much insight into streamlining importing and exporting food products of all types. Reser’s Fine Foods, for example, has been with us since 1980! You learn a lot from long relationships with diverse food offerings, and we’ve seen a lot of scenarios that require quick thinking and action on our part. We have excellent relationships with border agents in both Canada and the USA, and their trust in us is part of why we can deliver so effectively for our clients.”

A & A experts like Lisa are comfortable with directly contacting the FDA and the CFIA for details and updates.

“Being proactive and responsive, and treating our customers’ businesses like our own is crucial for smooth operations and building trust. While we can’t correct errors made by the shipper, we can prevent them from happening.”

‘Permits’ and ‘licenses’ have to be two of the least exciting words in the English language, but are oh-so-important in our industry. Being aware of and using, completely and properly, food licenses and permits literally make or break your cross-border business.

From Lisa, “It’s crucial to be aware of all food licenses and permits you’ll need, ahead of time. Paperwork is time consuming and food importing is highly regulated. In some cases, our clients need something called a ‘surety bond’. Because surety bonds require 3rd party agreements, they can be cumbersome. I work almost exclusively with businesses needing support with whether or not they need surety bonds, and if so, how to get them. Surety bonds are one of the unpopular but essential parts of importing and exporting food into Canada and the USA.”

Liz Smith, Client Services & Sales Coordinator

Providing EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) capabilities for the CDN side and zipments program for the USA side.

Just how important are properly utilizing EDI capabilities and Zipments PARS Trackers for importers and exporters? Liz is a mastermind at organization and simplifying complex paperwork and processes, required by both the US and the Canadian border agencies to get your food imports and exports swiftly through customs. Says Liz,

“There are so many benefits to EDI capabilities to enjoy. Invoices sent via spreadsheets unlock speed and reduce key errors, before they become a problem at the border. Properly utilizing EDI reduces the time needed to prepare and submit vital documents for entry into Canada with the CBSA. Creating smooth EDI experiences also fosters better processing in the future, and really benefits companies who are both importing and exporting food products.”

Top Tips Our Food Import Expert Brokers Provide

1. Trade wars and how to navigate them – like the dairy industry or grain fluctuations due to external political pressures

2. How to prevent shipments from being held

3. For new importers – make sure you have what do you need; licenses and permits, issues, rules and regulations, proper details on the food being imported

4. Know your duty in advance, plus proper classification, and timelines.

5. How to be compliant with APHIS animal and plant health inspection services (part of FDA)

6. How to fully prepare for inspections (ensuring complete paperwork while developing rapport/trust with border agents)

7. Understanding shipping quotas to get your best rates with the best mode of transportation

8. Are you interacting with multiple agencies/brokers? You want a broker who can seamlessly interface with other brokers and agencies, with confidence, on your behalf.

9. Make sure you or your broker has a highly detailed knowledge of products, understanding food products for accurate classification and CFIA requirements.

10. Ensure your products are classified correctly! Inaccurate classification of products can delay, or even halt shipments from crossing the border.

11. Seemingly simple things, like samples of food products can actually take months, so create a realistic timeline, either on your own or with a broker.

Essentials For Successful Food Importing

  • Include in documentation the manufacturer’s FDA number
  • Ensure FDA-compliant labeling – and remember, neither your customs broker nor the FDA can help you do this
  • Do your due diligence! Ensure you know before important what you can and cannot bring in.
  • Make sure you have a Safe Foods For Canadians (SFCL) license – which you can get online
  • Make sure all of your details on invoices are complete, the CBSA deems importers responsible for these complete, accurate details – so a quick chat with an A & A expert may be worth your while.
  • Pay attention to frequently updated, but not always communicated bulletins from the CBSA and/or the CFIA.
  • Make sure you understand the regulations when you are importing from foreign countries, which for the USA, can vary from state to state
  • Check if your product is legal for import before you start the process
  • Review requirements on new products, like supplements

Final Food For Thought

The overall takeaway from our experts was the importance of having knowledgeable experts on your side, and at the other end of a phone call or quick email. Relying on experts, some with over 20 years of experience should give you peace of mind, and help your food importing business grow and scale with great, measurable results.

Are you ready to make the switch, or at least, have a chat with one of your experts to see how they can help you excel at food importing in Canada and the USA? Contact us anytime, we’d be so glad to get to know you better. Contact us and let’s get importing!

NOTE: All details pertaining to CARM R2 processes are based on the current information available at the time of writing. As this is subject to change, it’s recommended you periodically check in with the CBSA or your customs broker.