Based on my last article, I hope I’ve made the case that we need to change. But why do we need a national food strategy when we’re so diverse, both in terms of regions and sectors?
We have so many different types of food production and food processing, and across Canada our regional food sectors are very different. So it’s hard to believe that they can all be covered by one strategy. And that is the way we’ve always done it. But we need to change. The reason we need a national food strategy is because we’re so diverse.
Working together through diversity
As diverse as we are, many things are common. We must improve our innovation because the market is changing fast and we must keep up. We’re getting more competitors from developing countries, and we need to keep pace with them both from an innovation standpoint as well as in terms of productivity improvement.
The area of sustainability and social responsibility is impacting us and we need to work together to ensure our resources are conserved to the maximum. Food safety, traceability, environmental performance, social responsibility programs are common to all regions and all sectors. We need to have common approaches to all of these and more, and do so in a manner that gives us recognition on an international basis in this globalizing food sector.
Yes, there also needs to be some flexibility for sectors to have strategic goals that only apply to them if that’s what the market demands of that sector, but not of other sectors. We need to allow for that differential to occur within our national strategy.
Common, continual improvement
So let’s look at some examples of national strategies, within the context of our mission to make the Canadian food industry globally competitive and financially sustainable. Our vision is that by 2020 we will be the global leader in the food sector. Those are goals common to all sectors.
I’ve said that innovation was a key strategy towards achieving that. By breaking this down into an analysis of the market, both domestic and global, we can start to see the trends that will affect us. Yes, they may affect the various sectors differently, but we should still start from one broad, overall analysis.
We know that our innovation value chain, from researchers to industrial commercialization, is the same for all sectors. So let’s focus on how to improve that on a national basis within a broad global context. Let’s better link researchers to industry, and research institutes into a national network. That research will lead each sector to do what is best for it, but within the global market needs.
Productivity improvement is the second key strategy. There are two key elements to optimize and continually improve our performance. One is that each enterprise should be using the same well-tested methods of continuous process improvement on their internal processes. Those methods apply just as much to all food processors and all producer operations, as well as to retail operations. Then, to maximize our performance, we need to link our processes with those of our suppliers and customers to make the entire value chain as efficient as possible, and to continually improve on that level of performance.
Sustainability requires strategy
Finally, sustainability also needs some overall strategies. In food safety, for example, we need HACCP-based programs at every level of every sector on a national basis. But there should be common programs that are GFSI-recognized through the whole sector. The horticulture sector has moved in this direction with its Canada Gap on-farm food safety program that is now recognized as equivalent to Global GAP, the GFSI globally recognized on-farm food safety program. Every sector needs to do this through the entire chain. We don’t need different levels of food safety programs in each commodity sector or at the producer level versus the processor level – we need a Canadian food safety program that applies to the whole sector and is GFSI recognized.
The same principle applies to such areas as full chain traceability, environmental stewardship, ethical treatment of animals, and occupational health and safety. Let’s develop these and ensure they’re equivalent to existing, recognized global standards.
By doing all of this, the “Canada Brand” of food products will become the “Global Standard” for food products. At the same time we’ll ensure better food safety, environmental stewardship, social responsibility, lowest cost, and the highest level of innovation than any other country in the world. We will be the best that we can be! Without a national food strategy and strategic plan we’ll just continue to be what we are, and no better.
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]