In the past several articles, I have been looking at the consumer food trends that are affecting the food industry and need to be considered as key drivers of the national food strategy. We have looked at a number of sectors and tried to see how those consumer trends are affecting them. There are several key sectors that I have not looked at, such as dairy, horticulture, and sugar and confectionery, and I will have some brief comments about them in this article. But I also want to move on to look at the “so what” aspects of looking at consumer trends. First let’s look at the three sectors I mentioned.
The first sector mentioned is the dairy sector. It is a very large “division” of Canada Food Inc. and one that I grew up with, in that I had several uncles that had dairy herds where I often worked during the summers. I also worked in an on-campus dairy plant at the agricultural college of the university I attended as an undergraduate, and processed and bottled milk and made lots of ice cream. So I have some favourable memories of the sector.
It is a bit difficult to identify one or two of the consumer groups that are influencing dairy in a big way. Certainly the Foodies like their cheese, especially cheese from Quebec and other Canadian cheese. They also like those fancy ice creams that are in the market these days. The Healthies are steering a bit away from dairy due to concerns about fat in their diets, so they may use skim milk instead of whole milk, and so on. The Greenies have some concerns about the environmental aspects of animal agriculture generally, and they may also have concerns about ethical treatment of animals. This may be holding them back a bit from dairy products, but I’m sure they still use them in cooking. On the whole, I don’t see major impacts on the sector at this point.
The horticulture division is, to a great extent, benefiting from some of the consumer trends. The Healthies see fruits and vegetables as key to a healthy diet and are eating more of both. The Greenies are also favourable to fruit and vegetables as being more environmentally friendly, and are favouring locally grown produce to a high degree. With the large number of Newbies (recent immigrants) in Canada from around the world, there have been experiments in recent years to see what Asian or other offshore products could be grown here in Ontario. And the Foodies want produce cooked in interesting ways and with new varieties and characteristics. So it seems to me that the horticulture division is benefiting to some degree from the changing consumer preferences.
As for the sugar and confectionery sector, there is some negative reaction on the part of the Healthies to too much sugar in their diets, but on the other hand they also believe that chocolate is a source of energy, so they do still eat it. The Greenies may be concerned as to how the cacao beans are grown and whether the plantations are conforming to Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade Alliance standards. And the Foodies are creating more demand for innovative new combinations of candies that have interesting flavours and textures. So, the confectionery division seems not to be suffering to a major degree.
What does this mean to our national food strategy?
Having now looked at all the major food and beverage sectors in Canada Food Inc., what do we take away from it with regard to a national food strategy? Well, I hope that I have shown how the changing market place must be kept up with if we are to be a successful food sector. As the market’s needs, wants, and demands change, so must we. We can’t just do what we’ve always done and expect to get what we always got. If we do, we will suffer roughing, to use a sports term, by our competitors’ imported products.
The other aspect of this is that in order to grow our agri-food business we likely need to get more into exporting. To do that we must not only understand the market trends occurring in Canada, which is basically what I’ve referred to, but we must also understand if and how foreign markets like East Asia, South Asia, the E.U. and so on have different consumer trends (needs, wants, demands) than we do here.
The opportunities are there for basically the entire business of Canada Food Inc. It doesn’t take a lot to understand what the markets want, who our competitors are, and what they have to offer. But we must make the effort to do so, respond to what is needed, and then go on to be a globally successful player. And the “Canada Brand” will contribute to our success as well.
From there, it will mean that the various commodity-based divisions of Canada Food Inc. must work together within their division and among the divisions to ensure that the entire Canada Food Inc. entity is sustainably successful over the long term. That approach must be part of the Canadian food strategy.