In my last article I laid out my view of a possible strategic plan for “Canada Food Inc.” It included a mission, vision, objectives, and some possible strategies to pursue. I would like to now expand my views on each of the six strategies I listed.
Strategy 1: Focus on becoming the most innovative food sector in the world.
It is often said that the Canadian food industry lacks innovation to a high degree, and that is surely true in many ways.
A major key to success in any business is to understand the market place and provide it with the products that it needs, wants and demands. The market for food is defined as food consumers and food retailers including grocery, foodservice, and specialty retailers selling food. But the market is also global and includes both domestic customers and global export markets. Understanding these markets requires research and analysis into such areas as demographics, economic levels of consumers, and the categories where growth is likely to be high, for example, healthier foods in the current environment, and consumer trends generally. In global markets this also involves understanding logistics and infrastructure issues, including trade policy and agreements that may assist or hinder the ease of marketing exports.
A second key to success is developing and maintaining an efficient and effective commercialization value chain starting with basic researchers and flowing through the stages of applied research, rapid commercialization, and financing. This chain must be closely connected to industry who will utilize these innovations to better provide the products the market demands. Part of the innovation here, also relates to the market analysis mentioned above.
1) Export Market Research: Conducting a Global Market Analysis to determine the best areas of focus in North American consumer markets and global export markets is the key starting point for achieving this strategy. It should identify key consumer trends in the various geographic markets and identify export markets, both by region and by food category, which Canadian food products have good market potential and where. This type of analysis must then be set up as an ongoing information flow available to all participants in the food system. This will also bring about innovation as a result.
This action could lead to Canada becoming a globally recognized source of foods focused on specific issues like healthier foods. It may also lead to the development of the “Canada brand” and other food provenance identifiers identified with Canada (such as “Alberta beef” or “Niagara wines”) that appeal to the more upscale and artisanal consumer market. Other niches to which we are well-suited to add value are also likely to be identified. We must clearly understand the needs of the whole market and its important growth segments and niches.
It is possible, perhaps even likely, that all of this information exists for some sectors of “Canada Food Inc.” and just needs to be pulled together and supplemented by some additional research and then analyzed to see where the greatest opportunities lie in order to make it part of our strategic plan. AAFC could make this happen.
2) Innovation Value Chain: A second key action is to conduct an inventory of food research and commercialization services in Canada and find ways to network these services with industry and one another. This Innovation Value Chain must include the Basic Research (“Blue Sky”) done at universities, government research centres and companies, the Applied Research (proof of concept) done at those same organizations, the Commercialization work to turn the research into marketable products done at technical centres and companies with the support of investors, and the marketing work done by companies to get the products to market and accessible to consumers.
We have a strong base of research focused on food in Canada. There are a number of highly respected universities with strong focus on agriculture and food. And then there are organizations like AFMCanada (a network of researchers), FoodTech Canada (commercialization experts), BioEnterprise (business planning and financing for start-ups and new products), and others that all fall within this category. How can that research-to-commercialization chain be made more effective and efficient and one of the best in the world at commercializing new ideas, products and processes related to food?
We have a great opportunity to become the most Innovative food sector in the world. It just needs to be pulled together on a national value chain basis and done with a global view in mind. Is this something the AAFC Sector Roundtables could make happen? Very likely it is. Let’s do it. We can 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]