Portugal’s Brand Icon

Cans vs. Cocks

RoosterofBarcelosIf there’s a country that’s in need of a new brand icon, it’s Portugal. You may be familiar with the Rooster of Barcelos. That colourful cock that folklore said came back to life to prove a man’s innocence. It’s a 17th century relic. It’s time to move on Portugal.

Lay that rooster to rest and stand by your favourite fish… the sardinha. These savoury sardines make up over 40 percent of Portugal’s fresh fish production. With over 200 types of fish available to be caught along Portugal’s coast, their hero fish by far is the sardine.

On my recent trip to Lisbon, I found myself walking through the small streets of the downtown area. I came across Loja das conservas (House of Canned Goods), which is dedicated solely to canned fish. This store front is an outlet to promote the National Association of Canned Fish Industry. It features product from fish canneries throughout Portugal and its outer islands.

Years ago, my dear friend Terry (Teresa) from Portugal hosting dinner parties serving grilled sardines. Her father proudly flipping those little, bony fish on the charcoal BBQ. They served them up with heads, tails, bones and all. At the time, I didn’t truly appreciate the love affair that the Portuguese had with these sea succulents.

Years later after Terry returned from a trip back home and again I was gifted with a can of sardines. I thought it was an odd thing to give as a gift. After all we can buy these at home, right? Wrong! Those scrawny, skimpy, sad suggestion of canned sardines we get in North American grocery stores can’t touch those seaworthy sensations from Portugal.

Not until I came to Lisbon and discovered this shrine to sardines did I realize that this goes beyond just eating. It’s an institution! Sardines are a national treasure. Just over half of the national sardine catch is consumed fresh. The rest of these sturdy little creatures get canned wrapped up in some award-winning brands like Briosa, Cantara, Catarina, Classic, Lucas, Minerva and Parmentier, just to name a few. Many of which are so small they don’t have a website.

Portugal’s love affair with the canned sardine runs so deep that they take the same care in packing them as they do to create their brand and package design. Each company has a very distinctive brand and their packaging is nothing short of collectible art.

MissCanThe artisan food culture has expanded into the canned fish world – meet Miss Can. A puritan of poseidon’s prize sardine, this sexy little shop near São Jorge’s Castle opened up in 2013. Since then, Miss Can has won the National Prize for Creative Industries (PNIC) in Portugal and Arla Foods Innovation Challenge in Creative Business Cup in Copenhagen. A tremendous achievement for a simple fisherman’s wife.

Where many places around the world are romancing artisan beer, wine, cheese and meats. Portugal is romancing the can … canned sardines that is. Indeed a brand icon that is deserving of a national brand celebration. What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts on Portugal’s sardines and the beautifully branded cans they are wrapped in. Leave a comment below.