Gary Fread explains why creating a Canadian food strategy will require changes to our cultural mindset
In past articles I’ve spoken of creating a Canadian food strategy, and that would involve a vision of what we can achieve in the Canadian food industry. It would take a focus on innovation to give the market what it seeks, a focus on productivity to create the quality of food the market seeks at a price it is willing to pay, and a focus on sustainability to ensure the protection of our resources that enable the food industry to exist.
We have also spoken of some of the barriers to creating a successful food strategy for Canada. This usually comes back to a lack of leadership from the industry, and the “silo” mentality we have in Canada around the levels of the industry, the sectors within the industry, and the provincial silos that exist. This “siloing” creates an attitude within the industry that leads to a lack of collaboration. All of this is reflected in the way our industry associations are set up as well.
There have been several attempts at creating more collaboration and a vision for the food and beverage industry. Both the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) and the Conference Board of Canada have made some noteworthy efforts to create a vision for the industry and to increase collaboration. But it is still not enough. Even the federal government, in its St. Andrews Statement, has taken a more holistic view of the industry. But what is happening as a result of that? Not too much. So what can we do?
A unified voice
I have referenced the Agri-Food Competitiveness Council that existed back in the early 1990s, set up to create a food industry “plan” to deal with the then very threatening North American Free Trade Agreement. I believe such an organization needs to exist again. It should include all levels of the food industry and its key supply sectors and distribution/retail sectors. Consumers and/or market researchers should be included. Perhaps some healthcare professionals – nutritionists and dietitians – should participate. Researchers from universities and research institutes should be included. And government should participate – not lead, but participate.
The role of this group should be to provide the sector-based leadership that seems to be lacking in the current environment. It should create the vision for the food and beverage industry and the overall plan to achieve it, and then take that plan to government with a list of things that government needs to do (policy changes, etc.) to assist the industry in carrying it out.
The “strategic plan” that this group creates to achieve the vision should allow for some latitude for the different sectors. What’s needed in the fresh fruit sector may be different than what the meat sector or the seafood sector needs. But there should still be close tie-in to the overall elements of the strategic plan in each sector. And that plan needs to have global focus on markets and their evolving needs, competitor countries, the future of nine billion people, and how Canada can not only feed itself but also be a key factor in feeding the nine billion.
The focus of that plan needs to be on creating a culture of innovation in the Canadian food industry; creating a culture of productivity improvement through the collaboration of all levels and sectors; and a culture of sustainability and social responsibility throughout the industry. There needs to be a mindset of continuous process improvement. We need to understand that excellence is achieved through people, and the attitudes of the human resources all through the industry needs to be one of understanding the vision and the strategic plan, committing to the achievement of that plan and continuous improvement for the good of Canada and the world. Perhaps this means working closely with the educational sector to ensure that people entering the food industry have those kinds of attitudes and the skills to make it happen.
There is so much potential in the Canadian food industry to improve the quality of life and increase the economic contributions of the largest industry in the county. We need to do this so badly. Come on team let’s pull it together. The new year is once again upon us. It is time for some resolutions – backed up by the commitment to make them happen.
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]