Canada’s food strategy: How do we pull it together?
The need for a national food initiative
In my last article, I talked about a global view of the food and beverage sector and the need for a national strategy that takes that into account. Since then I have read a book called The Big Pivot by Andrew S. Winston that is focused largely on the sustainability issues broadly and why how we have done things in the past won’t achieve what must be achieved in the future, and the strategy for handling that change and surviving successfully.
I feel that the approach Winston lays out could be applied and should be applied to our sector in the new world of food in which we find ourselves. I do believe the strategic approach I have laid out in my articles, which is basically a strategic planning approach common to many business executives, still applies. However, it must be viewed from a radically different perspective than we have used in the past. The context for our industry has changed and will continue to. Let me attempt to explain what I mean.
First, as I have said before, we are definitely now in a global market place, not just a Canadian or even North American one, and becoming more so all the time. The only way we can handle that changed market place is to take a global perspective and become part of that global market place; hence the move toward more international trade agreements like CETA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. There will be more to come, I’m sure, as developing countries’ consumer markets evolve further and those countries’ agri-food sectors come more into the global trade market. We must understand the needs, wants and demands of that changing global market place and become more focused on exports than we have in the past.
Secondly, the whole environmental sustainability issue based on climate change creates a challenge for how we move forward to feed those nine billion people by 2050. The broader issue of corporate social responsibility in areas like treatment of workers and health and nutritional safety of our foods only adds to that challenge. They all lead to a “hotter, scarcer, and more open world,” to quote Winston.
Finally, with more emerging market food sectors beginning to export to the developed markets, we will have to increase our productivity to ensure we can compete with those imports as they emerge.
We have talked a lot about innovation as the starting point, not just for product innovation, but also for improving productivity and sustainability. Also, the only way to make all of that work is to 1) collaborate along the entire value chain, from growers and their suppliers to processors and their suppliers, and ultimately customers/consumers; and 2) to break down some of the barriers between the various commodity and processed foods sectors since the entire industry will be affected in the same way with, yes, some variation from sector to sector. But a Canadian national business plan for the entire agri-food and fisheries sector will be essential.
So going back to my comments throughout my articles over time, what could that business plan look like within the larger global context? Let me lay out some ideas not unlike the issues I’ve spoken to previously. This is my strategic business plan for “Canada Food Inc.” as I have called the entire sector. Sorry, I know some people don’t like that phrase, but…
Mission: To make the Canadian food industry the global leader in the food world by being globally competitive, sustainable in every way, and financially successful.
Vision: By 2020, Canada is the global leader in the food industry providing good food that is healthy and responsibly produced, and providing reliable and safe food to Canadians and to our export customers.
Objectives: Some of these are already in the process of being achieved. Others need some more specificity:
- By 2020, the Canadian food sector is the largest sector of the Canadian economy and is profitable.
- To achieve a positive trade balance by 2020.
- To achieve a high percentage of Canadian food consumed by Canadian consumers that is from Canadian sources.
- To achieve the best food safety performance in the world as measured by some global standard.
- To achieve the best environmental performance in the world as measured by some global standard.
- Focus on becoming the most innovative food sector in the world.
- Focus on becoming the most productive food sector in the world.
- Focus on becoming the most sustainable food sector in the world.
- Focus on developing the export markets for value-added products.
- Focus on applying value chain management principles to the entire sector in all aspects.
- Create a regulatory structure in Canada to enable these strategies.
Actions: There are key actions needed to start implementing all of these strategies, and I will get into my views on those in the next article.
I know we can do this! Let’s do it.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org