Food In Canada

A National Food Strategy: Planning Into Action

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations

Gary Fread looks at next steps in launching a national food strategy.

So from my previous articles, I hope that you are in agreement that a National Food Strategy for Canada, or as I prefer to call it “Canada Food Inc.,” is necessary for us to be sustainably competitive over time. I also hope that you accept that the effort will pay off for us. Are you? Do you?

Getting Started

The strategic learning process now comes into play. It is composed of four steps: learn, focus, align and execute.

What do we need to learn? Well, I’m sure that what we need to know is “out there” somewhere. But it needs to be pulled together in a few white paper-type reports that cover a few key points. These white papers should be undertaken as projects supported by the whole industry, or at very least the federal government with industry involvement from all levels. What should they look at?


1. Market Analysis White Paper

One white paper should be looking at the global market place in total to understand what is happening and is likely to happen over the next decade or so with regard to food. It should be focused on the world’s food customers – both consumers and the trends involved – as well as the food retailing and foodservice industries and the trends emerging there. This should look at what is happening in Canada and other developed regions such as Europe and Japan; what is happening in developing markets such as Latin America, China, India and Southeast Asia; and what will happen in the lesser-developed countries where people often do not have enough to eat. It should then identify the trends that will affect the Canadian food industry, breaking it down by “business unit,” such as red meats, poultry, dairy, seafood/aquaculture, horticulture, grains/oilseeds/pulses, beverages, complex manufactured foods, and so on.

It should also look at who our major competitor countries are in each of those areas, the overall industry dynamics globally, and what is happening in the broader environment – the political, economic, social and technological trends that may impact our food industry’s ability to succeed.

And then, it should do a SWOT analysis for each of the Canadian “business units” referred to above. What are the opportunities for that sector, the challenges or threats? What are our strengths and our weaknesses within the context of the global market as defined above?

2. Benchmarking White Paper

Another white paper should be doing some benchmarking of how effective the Canadian “business units” are versus their global competition. Some of this work has already been done, but needs some updating. This benchmarking needs to be done on the whole value chain, not just agriculture or processing. That is, if it’s looking at red meats, it should cover all links of the chain, from animal genetics to production to processing. It should look at some standard measures of effectiveness that come from the fields of continuous process improvement and lean production systems, as well as the end unit costs versus our competitors. It should also look at how the level of collaboration in the value chain compares to our competitors, as this will become a key to competitive success more and more.

So at the end of the paper we should have a good feel for how each commodity fares versus its key competitors. If “commodity X” is a big player in Canada and has opportunities in the global market, and our major competitor is the U.S. or China or Brazil, how do we compare, and what do we need to do to improve? And are those improvements of a breakthrough nature, or are they of the type that can be attained through collaboration to achieve continuous improvements? Are breakthrough innovations that would give us huge competitive advantage possible?

3. Sustainability White Paper

This white paper should look primarily at the impact of our industry on our natural resources and the generation of waste, both of which will have a major impact on our ability to succeed over time. We must understand how effective we are in preserving our resources such as farmland, fresh water and maritime waters. There needs to be some sort of measurement system to do that (that probably already exists) and should identify weaknesses and potential solutions to make us more sustainable and successful over time. This paper should look as well at the amount of waste the industry generates and how to reduce it and reuse it in productive endeavors.

The paper should also consider how energy consumption/efficiency is in the industry and what may need to be done to improve it to enhance our sustainability. Perhaps a carbon footprint analysis should be done, or whatever the best way is to look at that type of measure. What alternative forms of energy might we better utilize?


I think these three white papers would provide us with the information needed for the “learn” part of the process. There may be a few other things that need to be looked at such as food safety and traceability through the value chains, corporate social responsibility, and so on, but that may be Stage 2 of the learn process.

These papers need to be done by experts in the field who are engaged by government/industry, and must have the interaction with industry to ensure its buy-in. From there, we would go on to the “focus” step to distill all the learning down into “key areas of action” for the industry, its “business units” and for “Canada Food Inc.” in total. That’s what my next article will deal with.

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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