Until last year, export volumes of western red cedar had been in decline for some time. The downturn coincided with the ending of the Council of Forest Industries’ offshore marketing programme and a general lack of industry promotion designed to grow overall demand. But, with the launch of Western Red Cedar Export Association’s (WRCEA) offshore marketing programme, this trend was reversed dramatically in 2004.

Total offshore shipments of WRCEA members in British Columbia reached 127.1 million board feet (C$233m), a rise of 16%. WRC exports to Europe increased more than 25% compared to 2003. In the UK specifically, shipments of WRC totalled 15.5 million board feet (C$31m), up from 11.4 million board feet. Ireland also saw strong growth, with 2004 shipments up 38.4% over the previous year, the largest increase of any offshore market.

The WRCEA acknowledges that it cannot be credited with this turnaround alone, but believes that its promotional efforts have been a key factor.

The Association includes companies in “primary, secondary and tertiary” areas of the cedar industry which, combined, represent more than 70% of all Canadian exports. Last year it also expanded membership to include overseas businesses, a strategy designed to “strengthen the relationship between suppliers in Canada and the buyers in target markets”.

Among the WRCEA’s promotional achievements during 2004/05 was the attraction of 100,000 visitors to its website, www.wrcea.org and www.red-cedar.org, a comprehensive source of technical information.

Last year also saw the production of a number of technical and promotional publications, plus booklets on production of blinds and shutters, doors and windows and paneling and mouldings in the material.

The WRCEA targeted key tradeshows too, exhibiting in the UK (at Interbuild), in France, Germany and Holland. In addition it undertook market specific advertising campaigns in Europe and Australia, taking total offshore promotion costing C$1m in 2004.

The association is also running architect awards programmes to encourage the use of WRC in high profile projects, while architect direct mail is designed to introduce WRC to the design community. The timber’s unique characteristics and positive environmental message gives it a strong appeal in these sectors and means it is well positioned to build on existing demand in established markets and develop domestic demand in emerging ones. And the WRCEA stresses that its main objective is to grow overall demand in all markets, rather than to divide up existing demand among more buyers.

The coming year will see the organisation further develop its offshore market promotion programme and continue to divert cedar volumes from the US. It will continue to shift its promotional efforts to target architects, designers, builders and technical colleges as, it believes, many of the “new generation” of professionals are not as familiar with WRC as their predecessors.

Feedback received from in-market industry associations, company representatives and WRCEA associate members highlighted the need to promote the environmental attributes of cedar and its natural decay resistance. As a response, the Association will undertake an expanded architect advertising campaign in each of its four priority target markets. And, to complement print advertising, it will also pursue internet-based promotional strategies.

The WRCEA also believes knowledge transfer is essential to create interest in cedar and its unique properties, address misconceptions and promote new ideas or applications. It now plans to expand its online training tool to include a new module for grading and suitable applications of cedar raw materials. This is particularly important to establishing a reference point for in-market customers and will offer more certainty in the purchasing process. Establishing a clear understanding of grades will result in greater confidence for purchasers or prospective purchasers of WRC.

In 2004/05, WRCEA, together with CanPly, the Quebec Wood Export Bureau, the Forest Products Association of Canada and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation established the first Canada Wood Day seminars targeting UK architects and specifiers. This year there will be further Canada Wood Days in the UK.

The WRCEA sees these events as excellent vehicles to facilitate improved communication, interaction and information exchange between the industry and design community and they will be complemented by other presentations and seminars throughout the year.