Does the food industry have the will to change and collaborate?
In my last article, I took a closer look at how we might create a national food strategy, and looked at a possible process that could be used, tied into the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Sector Roundtables (VCRTs). Now I would like to look at aspects of our industry that might get in the way of doing so. Do we have the will to change and the willingness to collaborate that would be needed? Let’s look at some of the internal aspects first.
In all of my articles I have used a “corporate” approach to creating strategy. That is, I have referred to “Canada Food Inc.,” which is a corporate view of how the industry fits together. But we are not a corporation. So can we get the collaboration between the value-chain levels of the food industry, i.e. growers, processors, and their suppliers? Well, my answer to that is that value-chain management is becoming fairly well known in the industry and is starting to be used in individual companies, and there is even some collaboration between companies in different sectors. So the mentality is evolving, but how broadly could it be spread through the industry? I believe it could be achieved. But the levels still mistrust one another to a fair degree, so it wouldn’t be that easy, but the VCRTs could be useful here.
Second, because each of the “operating divisions,” e.g. Animal Products, and “business units”, e.g. Red Meats, Poultry, Dairy, are all composed of competing companies, could we build in the willingness to collaborate to make the entire food production industry more competitive because we believe there is benefit to all, or at least to the vast majority, in doing so? Again, it would be difficult, and again, the VCRTs would be useful in helping to accomplish this.
Third, is the will to change present within our industry? Well, my opinion is that some sectors do have that will to change and some do not. For example, I think there is a willingness to change in the grains, pulses, oilseeds and special crops segment of our industry. A lot of that is driven by the changing consumer demand for healthier foods and a wider variety of plant-based foods. On the other hand, I don’t see it so much in the dairy and poultry sectors. In the entire industry there is still a bit too much of the “do what we’ve always done; get what we’ve always gotten” point of view. It doesn’t work that way anymore. We have to keep up with the changing consumer market and change as necessary.
So do the internal aspects mean we couldn’t develop a strategy for Canada Food Inc. that would have strong buy-in? I don’t think so. I think using the VCRTs it could be achieved.
So, what external aspects might be in the way?
First, is the political will there to take this on? Well, we have a new federal government with, I believe, an attitude about areas like this that might make it doable. We would definitely need to get Cabinet support for doing this, but I think it could be achieved since the whole food industry, including agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, and the supplier sectors focused on food, now add up to the largest industry of the Canadian economy. I don’t think it can be ignored. But we would need good collaboration between government ministries such as AAFC, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (Industry Canada), and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I already see evidence that these three ministries are starting to work together in the area of innovation. Add to those the Global Affairs Canada (International Trade) ministry. Yes, it would take some work to get the political will to focus on this, but again, I think it could be done. It must be remembered that the size of the food industry is huge. In the numbers I’ve seen both on the government websites and in Food in Canada’s Canadian Food Industry Report, the producer level, including fisheries, has $50+ billion in revenues, and the food processing level has $100+ billion in revenues.
I think that out of all of these factors, the will to change will get in the way more than anything else. We have to change. We could be the global leader in the food industry within a few years if we can make this happen. That would be good for virtually all participants in the food industry.
There is one nation that has done a wonderful job of carrying out this type of approach, and that is the Netherlands. I have had exposure in one of my projects to what the country has done, and given the size of its industry, it is WAY beyond what one would expect of a small country. It has brought together researchers (such as Wageningen University), the production industry, and the processing industry to accomplish what few other countries have accomplished. Just think of what Canada could do if we could bring it all together like that.
We could do it! Let’s start now!
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]