Canada’s Food Sector: A Strategy for Change?
Developing a national food strategy for the Canadian food and beverage industry is key, writes Gary Fread. But with major changes coming at the sector, developing a strategy is fraught with challenges. Here are some of the big ones
As I have talked about the concept of a National Food Strategy for the Canadian industry, it has become more and more clear that we are undergoing a set of major changes that make developing a strategy challenging. Let’s look at some of the big ones and see how they may be affecting the food industry.
First, over the past few decades, there has been a major shift away from “traditional North American cuisine”, e.g. a dinner of meat, potatoes, and vegetables, which I grew up eating, to a more complex set of product types/characteristics such as Healthier foods to meet the demands of the consumers I’ve referred to as “Healthies”. They are looking for safe foods and foods aimed at improving health. Food safety has become less of a problem, but there are still recalls that happen, and we are now faced with a new issue called food fraud.
Then there are also the “Greenies” looking for environmentally sound food products, the “Foodies” who are looking for delicious high end foods, the “Speedies” who want to have their meals ready in less than 5 minutes…and others that I have referred to in previous articles.
All of this means that our industry is becoming more and more complex from a product standpoint and that affects us all the way back to university basic researchers. What will this mean for all of the sub-sectors of the food and beverage industry? How do we adapt?
Then there is the whole issue of trade. We still don’t know what’s going to happen with NAFTA over the next few years and how that might affect our food trade with the U.S. And can we increase our global export business? If so, how? We also know our global population is headed toward 9-10 billion over the next 50 years. Can we feed them? We are a nation that can produce far more food than currently. We need to increase our exports and future potential. Let’s sell the Canada brand!
Second, there is the whole issue of environmental sustainability. We know that we must make changes to our methods of growing and processing foods to enable us to use fewer raw materials and energy, produce less waste, and create less pollution. There are efforts underway to take on this challenge and some are beginning to be successful, but we have much more to do at both the growing and processing levels.
But add to that is the issue of Climate Change. We are coming to believe that it is happening. There is much less uncertainty about that now. So what will the impacts be on our ability to produce food products? Will it make it less possible, or more possible, to feed the 9-10 billion population? We don’t know yet.
Third, all of the information contained in the Product Complexity and Sustainability comments above lead to a need for increased Productivity to allow us to make shorter runs of specialized products at marketable prices and to cut the waste at both levels of production. This requires tools and collaboration to make it happen. For example, there are tools to help make this happen…things like Lean Six Sigma and other quality related tools, but we also must get more committed to, and involved with, the Supply Chain Management approach to working along the entire supply chain from input suppliers, agriculture producers, food and beverage processors, food retailers and food service operators to consumers. Again, this approach is becoming well developed, and we need to adopt it in our operations.
So how does all of this effect the development of a national food strategy? Well, if we were a single corporation, we would have a marketing strategy, an environmental strategy, and an operations strategy to address all of it. But as an industry with many corporations, many sub-sectors such as red meats, dairy, grains, etc., it is difficult to do. But I do believe it is possible to do. It would take tremendous collaboration between the various levels of the industry, e.g. growers, processors, retailers, supplier industries, as well as between the sub-sectors, e.g. meats, crops, fisheries, etc. It could be a challenge to make that happen, but I do believe it is possible.
Let’s give it a try.