And so, we start another new year. Much is changing, some trends continue. The global population continues to grow toward the nine billion mark. But consumer trends are changing, with more focus on healthy foods, environmentally friendly foods, global fusion cuisine, and so on. Innovation continues, with new agricultural products with different attributes, new processing technologies to improve productivity, food innovation, and corporate social responsibility.
But is it all connected to an overall strategy for the food and beverage sector? No. It happens in a much more random fashion that may help one sub-sector or level of the sector if adopted, but is it planned and executed in a collaborative way to ensure assistance to all the sub-sectors and levels and among companies participating in the sector? No.
Are we going to focus the food sector on defending against imports or increasing exports, or doing both? We really don’t know for sure. The industry is so complex that people working in it often just don’t try to understand it from an overall perspective. I see that in my consulting work all the time. There is no vision of what the food sector could be or even what it is now in a total context. And my work also tells me that the Canadian food sector could be globally competitive and financially sustainable and, in fact, become the global leader in agriculture and fisheries-based foods. But there’s something about us that doesn’t seem to want to go there.
We are so divided in so many ways. In the industry, all the sectors are operated separately: beef, pork poultry, dairy, grains, oilseeds, horticulture, fisheries, etc., and nothing seems to act as a connector even though they all have many things in common as well as their differences. Then, of course, the levels of the value chain are so separated: producers, processors, input suppliers to each of those sectors, retailers, foodservice, and so on. We don’t maximize our excellence in productivity, innovation, and social responsibility because we don’t work as a value chain that is interconnected.
In addition, government and regulators are so split between federal and provincial levels and even between provinces that we, again, don’t have the type of leadership and national visionary approach we need to assist the industry to move forward in the right direction for long-term, ongoing success. Our trade balance is going off-line with imports increasing at a greater rate than exports over the past decade.
In total, leadership is lacking. There have been efforts to try to impact this positively by groups like CAPI, the Conference Board, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture. But, so far the impact is not as great as needed. Even the federal government, through the Ag Canada Sector Roundtables, has tried, but again, the visionary, strategic, collaborative approach isn’t happening, at least not yet.
The bottom line is that we do not see ourselves as a team that needs to work together to get the most out of the resources we have at hand and take advantage of the wonderful research, production, and marketing skills we have in the Canadian food industry. And I include agriculture and food programs in universities and research centres and key supplier industries when I say that. We could be the world’s greatest food supplier, building on our innovation skills, productivity along the entire value chain, and corporate social responsibility toward the environment, human health and food safety. I’ve spoken about the possibility of utilizing the Value Chain Roundtables, with some changes and adaptations, to make this happen – to develop a vision, strategies, and an implementation plan for what I’ve called “Canada Food Inc.” And by that term I mean that the largest economic sector of the Canadian economy could be even larger and more prosperous than it is. We could be the world leader in food production.
For that to happen, it all has to start with the majority of us in the sector developing an individual commitment to make it happen by working collaboratively and taking full advantage of all of the strengths we have in this sector.
So let’s do it! We can do it!
Happy New Year to all.
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]