How can "Canada Food Inc.” move an increased exports strategy forward?
In my last article, I focused mostly on all of the events happening globally that will affect our ability to increase our export volumes…things like BREXIT, the U.S. presidential election, and the effects those things will have on global trade agreements like CETA and TPP and even NAFTA that has been in place for many years. I concluded that we will have to wait until those issues get some resolution. Will Britain exit the EU and what will be the results? Who will win the U.S. presidency and what will be the impact on trade? It will take at least six months, and more likely a year, to get to the end results of all of that. But in the meantime, is there still something we can do as “Canada Food Inc.” to move the Increased Exports Strategy forward?
I believe there is at least one thing we should do. We could still go forward with an Export Market Analysis looking at various global regions/countries that are potential export customers. This would need to be done by sector (red meats, grains, horticulture, seafood, beverages, etc.) both at the processed product level and the basic commodity level. Some of this may already have been done either at the Sector Roundtable level or by national sector associations. Having Export Development Canada (EDC) involved in this would likely also be valuable since they do have an agriculture and agri-food sector focus in their organization.
The result of carrying out this type of analysis would be to have a plan for moving forward on export development when all of the “wait and see” issues are resolved.
Activities in other strategies
The Export Market Analysis would certainly contribute to our understanding of what needs to be done in this area, but in the meantime, why don’t we focus on how to improve the food innovation value chain in Canada? That would mean that sector by sector we should form better links and activities between basic researchers (usually at the university level), commercialization centres (such as the 11-member centres of FOODTECH Canada), and product and process development departments of food and beverage companies.
It is the operations of that food innovation value chain that will lead us to being the most innovative sector in the world. A good example of how successful such collaboration can be is the food sector of The Netherlands. They have a fabulous collaborative network that includes Dutch food companies, commercialization specialist organizations, and Wageningen University. They are much larger global exporters than anyone would expect based on the size of their industry.
In this area, there are several key efforts we should carry out in the very near term. The first is to utilize the AAFC Sector Roundtables in the manner that I outlined in the past several articles to increase the combined focus on improved competitiveness of the food and beverage sector and the commitment to achieve it. Utilizing the All Chairs Forum in connection with the various sector roundtables would be a good way to make this happen, perhaps with some outside expertise on value chain management principles that does now exist in the sector. This would be oriented to making the entire food sector value chain plus non-food suppliers like packaging and equipment significantly more collaborative.
The second activity that could be done now is to carry out a Benchmark Analysis of how the Canadian industry (sector by sector) compares to other leading food and beverage industries around the world. I’m sure the data to carry out such an analysis exists, probably through some organization such as the UN’s FAO. Again, perhaps some work has already been done by some Canadian government organization such as EDC. Such an analysis would lead to an understanding of what we need to do, again sector by sector, to increase our productivity on a total value chain basis.
Again, as I’ve indicated before, this is a complex focus area in that it includes not just impact on the environment and degree of energy usage, but also such things as corporate social responsibility in areas such as occupational health and safety, ethical treatment of animals, good agricultural practices, as well as food safety and production of healthy, nutritious foods.
To make good progress in this area would require strong collaboration among all levels of the food and beverage value chain and could, perhaps, be done along with the value chain management effort referred to above in the area of productivity improvement. Again, some outside expertise in the areas of sustainability would be highly valuable, and they do exist in the agri-food and marine sectors.
So, the bottom line for me is that while we’re waiting for all of the trade-related issues mentioned above to get sorted out, there is much that we can and should go ahead and carry out in the effort to become more competitive in general. When the trade issues are resolved, we would be in a strong position to increase our exports significantly or, in a worst-case scenario, easily defend our sector from the inflow of exports from other countries.
Let’s do it!
Gary Fread is president of Fread & Associates Ltd., consultants to the food industry. He has spent more than 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]