In my articles I have talked a great deal about what I believe needs to be done to create a successful food strategy for the Canadian food and beverage industry. I have spoken to how the AAFC Value Chain Roundtables (VCRT) could be the focus point for doing so. More recently, I have been exposed to the Food Processing Industry Roundtable and have had discussions with AAFC staff on the work of the Roundtables in general. I think I should acknowledge that some things are happening.
Food Processing Industry Roundtable
This roundtable, the FPIRT, has been working on the topic of a strategy for the food processing sector. Their focus at this point is on several key areas that I have spoken to in past articles, e.g. innovation and market development through increased exports of processed foods.
They have actually created a vision of what they are attempting to achieve. Namely, with the global population expanding to nine billion people by 2050, which will lead to a 70-per-cent increase in food required, they have settled on this vision: “Canada, Bread Basket to the World.” In carrying this out, they want to ensure that the sector is recognized as a strategic economic engine for Canada, and a world leader in providing innovative food solutions. And they want to grow sales and the level of processing of agricultural products significantly over the next few years.
They have indicated that the key strategies to carry this out include: 1) Focus on Growth and Innovation; 2) Focus on New Market Access and Development; and 3) Focus on Productivity and Competitiveness. They also see several key enablers to making these happen: 1) Regulatory Environment (simplify and level the playing field); 2) Talent Development and Labour Skills (a globally competitive workforce); and 3) Sustainability (responsible practices for the environment and growth).
There is also ongoing discussion about things like the need to partner more with educational institutions, how to better attract investments in the sector, and creating a network of connections within the business, scientific, and government environments.
The whole area of what is being called “Social License,” in other words, meeting societies’ expectations on topics like healthy living, safe food, environmental safety, and responsible treatment of animals, is also gaining focus. These are all part of the strategy I have referred to as sustainability. Society must support you on what they believe in for the sector to be successful.
All of that is very much in line with the strategies I have spoken to in previous articles.
The Other Roundtables
I do not have any in-depth knowledge of what the other sector roundtables are doing. Looking at the AAFC website it appears that some of them are dealing with some of the same focus areas, especially innovation and productivity, and some certainly reference the sustainability topic as well. But they are very much just focused on their level of the value chain and their sector only vs. agriculture in general.
So all of that leads me to some observations and conclusions about the whole Value Chain Roundtable’s set up and operation.
What’s Working/What’s Not?
- On the topic of increasing exports, it seems like there is not enough analysis of potential destination markets as to what their needs and wants are and how we might meet those needs. I think some formal Destination Analyses need to be done to zero in on where we might have the best chances of success. This would essentially be identifying the opportunities and challenges that are out there. Also I think some formal Commodity Analyses of our various food sectors needs to be done as well. This would be identifying our strengths and weaknesses broken down by sector.
- I think we need to take a more marketing approach to exporting. We need to better understand the consumers in various markets and identify potential innovation initiatives that might lead to success in the potential export markets.
- I believe we need more focus on the “Social License” area I mentioned earlier. We must maintain the environment, in the face of strong climate change, to maintain and increase our productive capacities.Focus on that area will also be a means of ensuring we have the best reputation for safe food to ensure healthy living.
- And finally, I still see too little focus on collaboration between the levels of the Value Chain or on the collaboration between the various sectors, e.g. Grains, Oilseeds, Livestock, etc. And I still believe this could be best accomplished through the All Chairs Forum (ACF) acting as the “Board of Directors” of “Canada Food Inc.” And the ACF “reports” to the deputy minister of AAFC, so it is at the right level, I would say.
I would sure like to get more exposure to the whole VCRT operation. I know it could be the best means of making the strategic planning process work on an overall basis.
I know we can do it! 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]