Canada’s Food Strategy: An Implementation Process
A closer look at a national food policy in Canada
In my last five articles, I suggested a potential strategic plan for “Canada Food Inc.” starting with a mission, vision, objectives and some possible strategies to pursue. I expanded my view on each of the strategies, and now we must ask ourselves what mechanism/process we could use to carry out such a strategic planning process. Our industry is complex. It has several levels – producers, processors, both sets of suppliers serving each of them, plus the retail and foodservice levels interfacing with consumers. In addition, there are many sectors of the industry such as red meats, dairy, grains, oilseeds and a number of others, each with needs and goals that vary from one sector to another. Having said that, I still believe there is a means of achieving a national food strategy for the industry.
I use the term Canada Food Inc. to try to reorganize my thinking on the industry into a more “corporate” view. When I do, we have several “operating divisions” — such as Animal Products Division, Plant Products Division and Other Food Products Division – including things like beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, as well as the more complex processed foods that draw from multiple producer divisions.
Within each of these, I see what could be termed “business units,” for example, Red Meats, Poultry, Dairy, Fish and Seafood, Grains, Oilseeds and Pulses, Horticulture, Beverages, Complex Processed Foods, and so on. And they could each be seen to be “vertically integrated,” including both producers and processors. In such vertically integrated businesses, both of the integrated levels need to operate successfully and make profits.
Such is my “corporate model” of Canada Food Inc. So, how could we use that model to create a national food strategy? Well, I think the mechanism for doing so is actually in place, but may require some tweaks. The mechanism I see is the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AFFC) Value Chain Roundtables (VCRTs). When I look at the AAFC website and what they say about the roundtables, it seems to relate very well to what needs to be accomplished. So, let’s explore that a bit.
They say the roundtable approach is intended to utilize our global reputation for excellent quality, food safety and innovative production and processing technologies to maintain or improve our global position, and lead to sustainable growth as the global marketplace becomes more intensely competitive.
Now doesn’t that sound like the potential mission statement I wrote, namely “To make the Canadian food industry the global leader in the food world by being globally competitive, sustainable in every way, and financially successful?” And the vision statement, “By 2020, Canada is the global leader in the food industry providing reliable and safe food to Canadians and our export customers?”
To accomplish this, AAFC also wants to use a Value Chain Management approach to carry out the work toward that mission and allow for some variation on approaches by sector. So, they created sector VCRTs for almost all of the key sectors of our industry, e.g. Beef, Grains, Horticulture, Pork, Pulses, Seafood, Sheep, Special Crops, and so on. There are no VCRTs for dairy or poultry, probably due to the supply management programs in those sectors, but they could also be created.
Further, the VCRTs include the entire value chain in the sector including producers, processors, input suppliers, retailers, foodservice, AAFC and other government departments as necessary, plus provincial governments. Some members are industry associations, but there are also many actual companies and producers in each VCRT. Now doesn’t sound like the corporate “senior management team” and “board of directors” (i.e. governments)?
The work mentioned as key areas for the VCRTs are things like:
- Identifying sector strengths and weaknesses.
- Capitalizing on domestic and international market opportunities.
- Sharing information and building trust across commodity sectors.
- Identifying research, policy, regulatory and technical requirements.
- Creating shared visions and cooperative long-term strategies.
- Responding to crises.
Now doesn’t that sound like many of the objectives and strategies I have proposed in my articles? The bottom line for me is that with a bit of facilitation, these VCRTs could become a wonderful mechanism for creating and achieving a national food strategy.
It all comes down to innovation to respond to the market, productivity improvement to compete with competitor countries, sustainability in energy and environment, food safety and nutrition, and corporate social responsibility, plus expanding more into the export market for value-added products, making value chain collaboration the norm, and ensuring a consistent regulatory structure that does not get in the way of success.
There is also an All Chairs Forum composed of the industry and government co-chairs of all of the VCRTs. For me, that is where the mission and vision need to be agreed upon. That would be like the corporate senior management team and the board of directors saying to the business units “here is what we want to achieve.” The potential strategies could also be included, but not as a “tell them what to do” statement, but rather “here are our thoughts on what the important strategies are…we’d like the VCRTs’ buy-in and/or feedback as to their appropriateness.” The importance of each strategy for each VCRT would vary as to their priorities by sector.
It would then be up to each VCRT (as the business unit management team) to work out the implementation plan for their sector and get broad buy-in by companies and organizations operating in that sector. The only changes I could see would include pulling some of the sector VCRTs together into a slightly broader grouping. For example, pull Beef, Pork, and Sheep together into a Red Meats collaboration. The same might need to be done with some of the crop VCRTs. And as I said earlier, there should be a Poultry VCRT and a Dairy VCRT as well.
As this is achieved, we would be having a pretty unified approach to accomplishing the mission and vision for Canada Food Inc. I truly believe it could be successfully accomplished in a very big way by utilizing this sort of team approach. And what a globally powerful industrial sector this would make us!
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 more than 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