Fifteen years ago, it was tough to get consumers to think about where their food came from as long as they could find it at the supermarket. “It’s a different story now,” says Kelly Daynard, program manager at the Guelph, Ont.-based Ontario Farm Animal Council. “There’s a groundswell of interest in food production practices.” This interest is reshaping the industry, as consumers increasingly demand verifiably safe foods that have been raised and processed to meet their expectations about social and environmental responsibility.
There are several reasons for the shift. The affluent baby boom generation has become more health and safety conscious, and more concerned about what they’re putting into their bodies, explains Derrick Ash, Retail Marketing director at the Beef Information Centre, with offices in Calgary, Alta. and Mississauga, Ont. And thanks to global communications, consumers across generational lines are better-educated and more socially aware. “People are looking for quality food that’s safe and produced ethically and sustainably,” he says. “In the meat and poultry sectors, this is resulting in more brands that are antibiotic- and hormone-free, for example, as well as certified organic, naturally raised, and locally sourced.”
Many industry players are already in step with these demands, and some are already ahead of the curve. It just makes business sense. “Consumers run our business,” says Tony Facciolo, president of Bolton, Ont.-based Holly Park Meat Packers and head of the Guelph-based Ontario Independent Meat Processors (OIMP). “For a small company especially, if you have one recall, you’re out of business. OIMP members tend to be family operations. They’ve worked many years to get where they are so they do whatever is possible to maintain consumer trust.”
For starters, maintaining this trust means complying with practices and processes to ensure that set standards for safety, quality and other attributes are met. Canada’s federally inspected meat plants must operate according to internationally recognized Hazard Prevention Critical Control Point (HACCP) models, follow rigorous federal regulation and procedures, undergo regular inspections and audits, and adhere to current good manufacturing practices (GMPs) and sanitation standard operation procedures. Enhancing consumer trust also means continually upgrading methods for controlling, detecting and eliminating food spoilage organisms and pathogens such as listeria monocytogenes and E. coli 0157:H7. For example, since Health Canada’s interim approval of sodium diacetate as a preservative in processed meat and poultry, the industry is working to include the antimicrobial in its products to reduce or eliminate post-processing listeria contamination.