15 Products You Can (Usually) Only Buy in Canada
Canada is widely known for its hockey, maple syrup, and brutally cold winters. But you can bet your back bacon that Canadians also enjoy some special products only available in the Great White North, many of which are completely unknown to its neighbors to the south, at least outside of specialist importers. Here’s a salute to some of the items that are usually only available on Canadian soil.
1. CANADIAN MILK CHOCOLATE
Crispy Crunch, Smarties (the Canadian kind), Aero, Wunderbar, Caramilk—while the names and textures of these candy bars may differ, they all contain the same unique “Canadian” chocolate taste. Apparently, there is a Canadian preference for a sweeter, creamier milk chocolate, as opposed to the gritty, bitter taste of American chocolate. In 2013, The Hershey Company changed its formula to develop a milkier, creamier chocolate “that is unique to Canadian chocolate.” Even Canadian versions of popular American chocolate bars, such as Kit Kat and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, taste completely different, as documented in a 2009 Food Network survey.
2. KRAFT DINNER (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH KRAFT MACARONI AND CHEESE)
Kraft Dinner, or “KD” as it’s affectionately (and now formally) known in Canada, is the country’s unofficial official food. It been reported that Canadians consume 1.7 million boxes of the neon-colored pasta tubes a week, out of the 7 million sold globally. Yes, you can get similar pasta-and-powdered cheese concoctions in the United States, but you can’t find the “KD” packaging anywhere in the U.S., and there tend to be more varieties of the pasta in Canada as well.
3. BUTTER TARTS
These yummy desserts—pastry tart shells filled with maple or corn syrup, sugar, butter, and raisins—are a distinctly Canadian treat. Some articles have traced their origins to pioneer cookbooks published in the early 1900s. However, a 2007 Toronto Star article suggests they date back to the mid-1600s and the arrival of the filles de marier, or imported brides, from France. Regardless, these desserts are a seasonal staple at the Canadian Christmas snack table. And while some small American bakeries might offer butter tarts, in Canada processed, pre-packaged versions are found at most convenience stores around the country.
4. MILK BY THE BAG
Yes, that’s really a thing. You may think milk in a bag defies the laws of physics come pouring time, but the bags are smartly placed in a pitcher container and the corner is snipped off at an angle for easy pouring. Bags of milk are still popular in Ontario, Quebec, and Eastern Canada, but have been phased out in other parts of the country. Some American states have flirted with the idea of bringing bagged milk to the masses, but the practice doesn’t look like it’s catching on.
5. MOUNTAIN EQUIPMENT CO-OP
Similar to the U.S.-based REI, Mountain Equipment Co-op was founded in 1971 by four mountaineering friends who wanted to offer Canadians a low-cost way to purchase outdoor equipment without having to go to the States. Today, MEC still runs as a co-op, offering memberships for $5 (you need one to purchase anything at the store). It’s found in 18 cities across the country and boasts 4.5 million members from Canada and around the world.
6. HICKORY STICKS
Picture julienned, thick-cut potato chips with a tangy, smoky flavoring and you have Hickory Sticks. They're also one of the few remaining products under the Hostess name in Canada, as Hostess was bought out by Lays in the 1990s (the Canadian potato chip brand is completely unrelated to the Twinkie hawker). These products have survived the test of time … as has the decidedly unglamorous brown packaging.
7. SWISS CHALET
Mention the words “Quarter Chicken Dinner” to any Canuck and the words “Swiss Chalet” will immediately come to mind. The restaurant is known for chicken, ribs, and one-of-a-kind dipping sauce. Bonus point for anyone who remembers the cheesy Swiss Chalet TV commercials of the 1980s with iconic images of those juicy succulent chickens rotating on skewers.
Americans may have their Bloody Marys, but the Canadian hangover cure (and cause) has always been found in a Caesar. Similar to a Bloody Mary, the recipe typically calls for 1-2 ounces of vodka, two dashes of hot sauce (Tabasco is commonly used), four dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and 4 to 6 ounces of Clamato juice. Don’t forget the celery salt and pepper on the rim! The crowning glory are the stalks of celery, olives, limes, and other greenery that may accompany it. Serve over ice and enjoy.
9. RED RIVER CEREAL
Who would have thought that a blend of wheat, rye, and flaxseed mixed with boiling water would be such a hit? Named after the iconic Red River that flows north into Winnipeg from the U.S., the hot cereal has been a staple in many homes since 1924. Red River Cereal was once imported into the U.S. by Smuckers foods of Canada, but it appears to have been discontinued.
10. MCCAIN DEEP N’ DELICIOUS CAKE
McCain Deep n’ Delicious cakes are a fixture in Canadian freezers around the country. The moist cake is available in vanilla, marble, chocolate, and other flavors, topped with a sweet icing. The treat comes in a metallic aluminum foil tray with a resealable plastic dome lid that is often superfluous, as the cake is usually eaten entirely in one sitting. Pass the fork, please!
11. PRESIDENT’S CHOICE PRODUCTS
What started out as a desire to make top-quality generic-brand products in the 1980s has since grown into a best-selling national empire. The President’s Choice line was spearheaded by the late Dave Nichol for the Loblaw chain of stores in 1984 as way to bring a “higher end” generic brand of products to consumers. Some of the first items included PC Beer and The Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, which hit the shelves in 1988 and is still one of its top-selling products today. While the company did expand to selling some of its products in select grocery stores around the U.S., the PC brand has largely been phased out of the United States, save for a few stores in the Chicago area.
12. LAURA SECORD CHOCOLATES
Take the name of a Canadian war hero and mix in some cocoa, sugar, and butter, and you have a recipe for national chocolate-making success. Laura Secord was an American-born pioneer woman in what was then Upper Canada (the forerunner of Ontario), who successfully warned the Canadian and British forces of an impending Yankee attack during the War of 1812. To the delight of many sweet-toothed Canadians, her legacy did not stop there. In 1913, Frank P. O’Connor opened the first Laura Secord candy shop on Toronto’s Yonge Street. Today, over 100 stores are found across Canada—boasting more than 400 products, including the marshmallow Santa Claus, a seasonal favorite stocking-stuffer. The chain does deliver to the U.S., but there are no locations south of the border.
The Betty Crocker kangaroo-shaped cinnamon-flavored graham cookies dunked in sweet, sweet icing are still sold in grocery stories in Canada despite being discontinued in the United States. Americans will either need to cross the border to pick them up, pay at least five times the retail price for the product on sites like Amazon, or come up with their own homemade remedy for their sugar craving.
14. HAWKINS CHEEZIES
The original Canadian Cheezie was actually created in Chicago after the Second World War by James Marker and W.T. Hawkins. According to the product’s website, the duo perfected their recipe by extracting cornmeal into finger-like shapes, frying them in shortening, and then dusting them with aged cheddar cheese. The plant moved to Ontario, Canada, in the 1950s and the product has remained north of the 49th parallel ever since. Some have said the snack is similar to a Cheetos Crunchy, but others claim there is only one Cheezies.
15. LE CHÂTEAU
Long before U.S. chains such as H&M and Forever 21 graced the storefronts of Canadian malls, Le Château was the go-to store for affordable, Euro-chic clothing and accessories. The Canadian clothier first got its start in 1959 as a family-run store in downtown Montréal. Today there are more than 200 retail locations across Canada. In the late ‘80s, Le Château opened more than 20 stores in the U.S., but closed them about a decade later after reporting significant losses in those markets. The company boasts a small international presence in countries such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia, but the name recognition of Le Château in Canada is as Canadian as poutine. (Le Château founder Herschel Segal is also co-founder of another Canadian business, David’s Tea, but that one is now widely found in certain parts of the U.S.)
This article originally ran in 2016.