Food In Canada

Exploring possibilities – strategies to compete

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations

Gary Fread considers future strategies for Canada’s food industry

In our last article, we got to the stage of proposing a mission and vision and talking a bit about the strategies to achieve them for Agri-Food Canada Inc. – the Canadian food sector (with apologies to the Fisheries and Aquaculture industry who don’t appear in that name, but should. Maybe we should say “Canada Food Inc.”)

As the mission or mandate of the sector, we suggested: “To create food that is globally competitive and financially sustainable for the whole sector.” And as the vision, destination or goal – whichever you prefer – we suggested “Canada = Food. By 2020, Canada is the global leader in the Food Industry.”

The first step would be to get alignment and commitment to those goals by the whole sector, including governments. We need to have this national vision and strategic plan with the whole sector behind it. So then, what strategies would be needed to accomplish this and how would we begin? Here are my thoughts.

Strategy 1: Become the most innovative food sector in the world.
How do we differentiate the Canadian sector? Do we focus on healthier foods, the culinary experience via upscale and artisanal foods, the safest foods, ethically produced, all of the above, or what? How do we improve the effectiveness of our innovation processes in Canada? How can we make gains in productivity and sustainability by being more innovative? Put yourself in the place of a business asking these questions.


The first steps could be:
•    Conduct a sector-wide market analysis to determine what product segments to focus on and get the sector aligned on the outcome.
•    Enable the “commercialization value chain” from researchers to businesses to be more effective and efficient through collaboration along that chain.
•    Establish strong value-chain collaboration generally in the sector from producers to retail, including foodservice.

Strategy 2: Become one of the most productive food sectors in the world.
We must be able to compete on a cost/price basis that is as good or better than our competition despite our reputed smaller scale. How?

First steps:
•    Conduct a benchmarking analysis of all levels of the sector and create a value-chain score by sub-sector to understand our status globally.
•    Conduct training and education in the value chains on productivity-enhancing techniques like continuous process improvement, Six Sigma, and Lean so we can start working more effectively throughout the chain.
•    Collaborate with researchers to identify new technologies for improving productivity.

Strategy 3: Become one of the most sustainable food sectors in the world with three parts: food safety and security; environmental sustainability; social responsibility.

Sustainability has several elements that are critical to success and will become more so over the next decade and beyond. How do we do it?

First steps:
Food Safety and Security
•    Work collaboratively in all sub-sector value chains from producers to retail, to develop harmonized food safety systems for that sub-sector that meet Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI) requirements.
•    Work to get those sub-sector programs recognized by GFSI.
•    Focus on educating consumers on safe food practices.
Environmental Sustainability
•    Collaborate with researchers on a project to identify the most appropriate technologies, process design and operating procedures to maximize the use of alternative energy, energy from waste, and general waste reduction.
•    Work collaboratively in all sub-sector value chains from growers to retail, to develop programs for energy efficiency and waste reduction that are recognized as the best in the world. Confirm that by benchmarking the carbon footprints.
Social Responsibility
•    Work collaboratively in the entire value chain from growers to retail, to ensure the maximum level of occupational health and safety, ethical treatment of animals, responsible sourcing and operations, and corporate ethics toward society generally.
•    Apply these same standards to all of our import and export value chains.

Strategy 4: Become a large net exporter of value-added food products.
First steps:
•    Conduct a global market analysis to identify target markets and sectors where Canada might see big successes.
•    Work collaboratively with the NGOs, Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada, and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada trade specialists to penetrate those markets.
•    Develop highly efficient logistics systems to service those markets.

Strategy 5: Create a regulatory infrastructure in Canada related to food that enables Strategies one to four, and that is seen as “global best practice.”

First steps:
•    Carry out a formal global benchmarking study of all regulations applying to food and how we rate versus key global competitors.
•    Work with governments to rationalize our regulatory structure.

Some of the studies and analyses mentioned above might have already been done, and if so, let’s circulate and familiarize ourselves with them as a starting point.

Finally, we need to articulate those strategies and gain the alignment and commitment of the sector, while identifying who are the key implementers, participants, facilitators and accelerators to make them happen.

I know we could do this successfully. It fits with “the Canadian way” of doing things, but on a larger scale, and gets rid of the “silos” that always get in the way. It just needs leadership, collaboration, and commitment and we all would benefit, including the Canadian economy generally.

Come on. Let’s be as great as we could be.

One persons’ point of view…

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

Print this page


Stories continue below