MACLEAN’S REPORTS

HOW BOB DUNN KEEPS OUR DIPLOMATS FED

EILEEN TURCOTTE May 1 1965
MACLEAN’S REPORTS

HOW BOB DUNN KEEPS OUR DIPLOMATS FED

EILEEN TURCOTTE May 1 1965

HOW BOB DUNN KEEPS OUR DIPLOMATS FED

WHEN BOB DUNN was first secretary at the Canadian Embassy in Venezuela a few years ago, he got a yen for some good old Canadian bacon for breakfast. The best way to get it, he discovered, was to write to Ostermann Petersen’s in Copenhagen, one of the world’s two big export companies specializing in shipping goods to diplomats around the world.

“It seemed silly to have to send to

Copenhagen for Canadian bacon,” says Dunn. So many of his colleagues agreed with him that in 1962, he left External Affairs and set up Canadian Products Ltd., expressly to sell Canadian food to Canadian diplomats abroad. Dunn’s firm guaranteed delivery within forty-eight hours to anyone in Europe and within seventy-two hours to anyone farther afield.

The idea caught on so well that when Dunn, now' fifty, branched out into general exporting, he had to open a separate firm. Robert Dunn and Co. Ltd., just to handle the steadily growing orders from diplomats. So far this firm has sold only to Canadians but Dunn hopes to expand to other diplomats as well and expects to build up to at least fifty or sixty thousand dollars in annual sales.

Dunn, who served in Washington, Venezuela and Chicago during fifteen years w'ith External Affairs, says most people don’t realize how expensive it is for a diplomat to live in some countries abroad.

In Venezuela, for instance, his wife paid .$1.25 for a can of baby food in the local stores. Dunn’s firm will ship the same item anywhere for 16 to 23 cents, plus freight charges (which could be as little as a cent a can).

Since diplomats anywhere in the world can import goods without paying taxes or duty. Dunn reckons that even with freight costs they can save at least two hundred dollars on a thousand-dollar order of household goods by buying from him instead of from local stores. Biggest savings are on liquor (sample price: $13.25 for a dozen twenty-six-ounce bottles of Canadian Club) and cigarettes ($4.45 per thousand). “But even when they’re not saving money they’re advertising Canadian products all over the world,” he says.

Dunn’s best customers are mostly in the high-cost-of-living countries or hardship posts, but he also gets a healthy number of orders from nearby

Washington and New' York (mainly for Canadian liquor, cheese and maple syrup).

Other most-popular items: NYLONS at one dollar a pair in France, where they're twice that price; TOILET PAPER in Europe, where the local variety is often distressing to North Americans;

INSECTICIDES and canned soft drinks in tropical countries; DRUG SUPPLIES (c.g., 222s) which can be bought only on prescription in some countries;

PLUS (everywhere): baby foods, instant coffee, beans, salmon, instant mashed potatoes and dietetic foods.

Although he carries a limited list of goods in his forty-four-page catalogue, Dunn boasts he wall send his customers any item they want if it’s humanly possible. And he hasn’t been stuck yet. The toughest order he’s ever had to fill came soon after he started the firm. It was from Jean Chapdelaine, then Canada’s ambassador to Brazil, who wanted cod livers and cod tongues. “I’d never heard of them,” Dunn says, “and none of my suppliers had any.” But he found some at Ottawa’s Byward Market, and as the original firm’s cable address was Candoo, he took great delight in cabling Chapdelaine:

“CANDOO CAN DO. DONE. DUNN.”

(His boastful new cable address: Dunncan.)

Some of Dunn’s best customers have grown to rely heavily on his advice in planning banquets. When Prime Minister Pearson was to entertain De Gaulle at a dinner in Paris, Dunn wrote to suggest buffalo steak as the main course. Pearson didn’t go for the buffalo but he did order some other items, including Arctic char— and cod livers, which this time Dunn knew where to buy.

His biggest headache is documentation. No two countries have the same regulations (some, for instance, admit diplomatic goods only at certain ports). Freight routings also take a lot of time and paperwork, and freight costs can easily get out of hand if an order is too small for a bulk rate. Dunn found that out the hard w'ay once in filling an order from South Africa. He inadvertently let a mere twenty cases of beer go alone. “The beer only cost fifty-six dollars,” he remembers, “but by the time it got there the freight charges were $55.25.” To keep his customer happy, Dunn billed only $15.60 for freight and resigned himself to taking the loss. (By coincidence, though, most of the cases got lost in a mixup at the port of entry, and Dunn got his money back after all — in insurance.)

Tw'o current Dunn projects: PRODUCING a new catalogue (this time it’s to be bilingual) for which the airmail postage alone will be fifteen hundred dollars to cover two thousand-odd names on his mailing list: PERSUADING Canadian diplomats to celebrate July 1 with Canadian champagne. Dunn's pitch: “It's as dry as Canadian humor and only $18.90 a Case.”

EILEEN TURCOTTE