As I have spoken about Canada’s food and beverage processing industry over time, it has become clear to me that there is a lack of understanding of the significance of this industry to the Canadian economy outside of the industry. As we hear what’s happening, or speculate about what’s about to happen, with trade agreements like TPP, CETA, and NAFTA, one hardly ever hears comments about the food and beverage industry. And yet, based on numbers from Food In Canada’s 2016 Canadian Food Industry Report, Canadian food and beverage shipments in 2015 were $106.5 billion, of which about 29 per cent or $31.1 billion were exported. Those are not small numbers.
Add to that the numbers from the animal and crop agriculture sectors and the fisheries and aquaculture sectors whose products are most often used as food or food ingredients, and those numbers increase the overall total numbers by a significant amount. And then there are other industries with a high focus on food products, such as the packaging industry, of which the food industry is likely their largest customer. The retail grocery and foodservice sectors are a significant part of our economy as well. Many large universities across Canada have Schools of Agriculture and most have Departments of Food Science and Nutrition.
I have worked in the food processing sector over the decades of my career, and it has often been quite apparent to me that we are not recognized or understood by business people and consumers, and even governments for what we bring to the Canadian economy.
Now I have talked about increasing exports, and it becomes clearer and clearer to me that one thing that must happen is that we must do some “marketing” of the Canadian food and beverage sector both at home and abroad. People must come to understand the size and quality of this industry and that it has potential to be even greater. How do we make that happen?
Another thing we have to do is to understand what the food and beverage market place is looking for and tie our innovation to production of what the market needs, wants, and demands. This goes back to the comments I’ve made on the state of innovation in the industry. We must give the Foodies the types of interesting foods they want to eat. We must give the Healthies the healthier foods they want to eat. We must give the Greenies food that can be shown to be produced in an ethical and environmentally sound manner. The Speedies want their food to be microwaveable and ready to eat in less than 10 minutes. The Cheapies, or value-conscious consumers, want to control their spending on food either because they don’t have the money to spend on expensive foods or they are not Foodies. And finally, the Newbies, or new immigrants, who are looking for foods they are familiar with in their country of origin or are starting to create “Global Fusion Cuisine.”
But then we must also understand the market demands in potential export countries and use our innovation value chain to development products that will appeal to Europeans, East Asians, Latin Americans, etc.
All of that will make us more valued as food and beverage suppliers, both home and abroad.
And we also have to do some marketing of the food and beverage sector here at home with regard to its size and importance to the Canadian economy. This must be directed to governments, investors, and the media. We have to sell the “Canada brand” with regard to our industry so that the focus is not as much on sectors like the auto sector, the petroleum sector, and others that we hear about in the news so often.
Some of what we have to stop doing is being so commodity focused on, say, grains or fisheries or red meats and all the others. We tend to see each as a separate part of the economy, as opposed to being part of the food and beverage sector of the economy.
I believe we can do it. Let’s do it!
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent 25 years in management positions in the food processing industry, with a background in sales, logistics, purchasing and technical areas. He has worked with Procter & Gamble, Campbell Soup and Morrison Lamothe, and is the past president and CEO of the Guelph Food Technology Centre. He is active in many food industry associations and organizations, serving on the boards of several. Contact him at [email protected]