Food In Canada

A National Food Strategy: Planning Into Action – Part 2

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations competitiveness gary fread national food strategy

Gary Fread continues his look at implementing a Canadian food strategy

In my last article I started talking about the Strategic Learning Process composed of four steps: learn, focus, align and execute. I spoke to step one, learn, in terms of the need to pull together a few white papers related to the food sector, Canada Food Inc. These included a market analysis white paper, a competitiveness benchmarking white paper, and an operation sustainability white paper. If we could get these completed, what then? Well, let’s talk about the focus, align and execute steps now.

Market and trend analysis

The first step at this level would be to understand what the learning is from the white papers. From the market analysis white paper we should be seeking to understand what external forces are at work and what market trends are resulting from those forces. There are several tools that can be used. First, there is what is called a PEST analysis. What are the political, economic, social and technological forces at work and how are they affecting the food sector globally and in Canada? There is also the five forces analysis tool. Who are our customers, our competition, potential new entrants, the threat of substitute products, and who are our suppliers? And what is happening relating to each of those forces? In addition, this white paper should allow us to better understand what consumer trends are emerging, and what trends are emerging in the retail grocery, foodservice, food processing, and agriculture/fisheries levels of the value chain.

This will get us to the point where we can focus on what we need to do to make Canada Food Inc. the best food sector in the world (our sector vision) and a dominant player that is sustainably competitive (our mission).


Likewise, we need to look at the benchmarking white paper to understand, within the global market, where our strengths and weaknesses lie and what the opportunities and challenges are for us to succeed. In other words, do a SWOT analysis. This should be done at the overall “corporate” level for the entire Canadian food sector, and should be broken down into the “business units”: red meats, poultry, seafood/aquaculture, dairy, horticulture, grains/oilseeds/pulses, beverages, and complex manufactured foods.


We also need to look at the sustainability white paper using a similar type of SWOT analysis, but looking at how we need to manage our sector in a more environmentally sustainable manner, given that our resource base is at the heart of our sector.

This step in the strategic learning process needs to be done by a combination of business leaders from the sector at all levels of the food supply chain, and covering all of the “business units” referred to above. It must also involve government leaders from some mix of agriculture and food, industry and international trade ministries, since policies related to the sector lie in all of those ministries and may need some adjustments as well. This would be the “corporate board of directors” plus “senior management” from all of the business units.

Brand strategies

Out of all of this analysis, we should be able to start developing the strategies that need to be carried out in order for us to be successful. This starts with some overall “corporate” strategies for Canada Food Inc. related to needs and possibilities that exist for the whole food sector. These corporate strategies need to be supplemented with “business unit” strategies to take advantage of opportunities that exist most at a commodity sector level. These sector strategies need to support the national strategies as well, so there needs to be some consistency of what we are trying to do while allowing variation, as needed, at the commodity sector level. These “business unit” strategies need to be done at the sector level, and cover all of the “brands” that exist there. For example, the red meat business unit needs to have strategies for red meats, but the “brands,” i.e. beef, pork, lamb, etc., also need to ensure that they have strategies that are in line with the red meat strategies and the corporate level strategies, but that contain the flexibility needed to adapt them to “brand” needs. Again, all levels of the chain need to take part collectively in this exercise.

I will acknowledge that Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada did take some steps in this direction with the creation of the Sector Roundtables. I’m not sure what the results have been in this regard, but those roundtables may provide forums that could be used to carry out what I’ve just outlined.

This really takes us to the align step in the process, but I will leave it there for now. In my next article I will talk about the align and execute steps.

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

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