Drivers of innovation in food processing and manufacturing
By Marc-Stéphane Pennee & Michael Kamel
Over the past decade the Canadian agri-food industry has evolved rapidly, with new innovations and technologies helping to reshape the industry and give it the global recognition it deserves. When you consider how much the industry has transformed already, it’s hard not to get excited about possibilities for the future.
The green wave: Changing the look and feel of products
Historically many industry innovations have revolved around products. When sustainability moved onto the corporate radar, it was driven by knowledgeable consumers with a desire for green products. Customer preferences shifted to local and sustainably developed products — foods filled with regional and natural flavours that made customers feel good about themselves and their purchasing decisions.
In tandem with shifting customer preferences came a focus on product packaging. When oil prices reached record highs, food processors and manufacturers shifted to lighter packaging, paper-based packaging and packaging that could extend the shelf life and quality of products. In an industry often seen as commoditized, green and aesthetically pleasing packaging helped companies stand out from their competition.
The safety wave: Providing efficiency without compromise
Mad cow. Salmonella. E. coli. Each of these can spark substantial fear among consumers. Related incidents have also driven both health and safety standards in Canada and the internal processes at agri-food companies. No company wants to be the subject of a recall, let alone be responsible for consumer illness or death. To manage ever-growing fears about food safety, agri-food businesses have improved — and continue to improve — their processes to ensure traceability and quality assurance.
Companies have also focused on improving the effectiveness of their back offices. Being sustainable only works when it’s economically sound. That’s why many agri-food businesses have looked for ways to reduce waste and make the most of efficiencies across their organizations — without compromising their need to provide high-quality products.
The next wave: Exploring new ways to work
These days, companies in the agri-food sector face a significant new threat: enhanced global competition. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement both have the potential to significantly increase imports and competition from Asia and Europe. Concerns about the impact of these treaties are prompting some companies to focus more on commercialization than ever before.
This wave of innovation has myriad facets. Here in Montreal, organizations are working together to access new markets and to offer new services. Local ice cream makers are sharing space with winter-based businesses to provide visibility and increase year-round traffic at retail locations. Food companies are also creating alliances with complementary businesses and with businesses in other industries to make the most of innovation, develop new products and create stronger platforms for commercialization and growth.
Only one thing is certain about innovation in the agri-food industry in Canada: anything is possible. As technologies evolve, companies will be able to innovate more, do more and be more. Those that embrace innovation in all its forms will be able to compete against any threats coming their way.
Marc-Stéphane Pennee, Quebec agrifood partner, and Michael Kamel, strategy partner, are both based in the Montreal offices of PwC Canada. They can be contacted at [email protected] and [email protected] To read more about innovation in Quebec’s agri-food sector, explore Saveurs (www.pwc.com/ca/food), a new PwC series where we sit down with agri-food leaders to get their points of view and discuss their biggest challenges.
This article appeared in the print issue:May 2016 edition, Ask the Expert section