Food In Canada

Exploring the possibilities for Canada’s food sector

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations

Gary Fread considers how to build a more competitive food industry

In our previous articles, we asked the question “Can the Canadian food sector be globally competitive?” Then we went on to look at the topics of innovation, productivity and sustainability – all the elements needed to be globally competitive. Finally, we went considered the consumer and retail markets that we need to serve. So, what is possible for the sector?

Some of the conclusions we came to were that the sector is not as innovative as it needs to be to stand out in the global market. This is a combination of innovation in new products, processes and packaging at the company level, as well as a lack of innovation in the areas of productivity improvement and sustainability. Our commercialization value chain from researchers to companies is also not as effective as we need it to be. All of that could be changed, perhaps with some government assistance.

Second, we are clearly not as productive as we need to be, partly due to scale, but mostly due to not focusing on it enough. We should be using continuous improvement, smart process/product design, and collaboration with suppliers and customers via techniques like lean operations. If we did that, we could be competitive from a productivity standpoint.

We aren’t as environmentally sustainable as we could be either. We still have a rather piecemeal food safety value chain from farm to fork, but again, nothing that couldn’t change with a little more focus.


And from a market standpoint, there are challenges, but also many opportunities:

•    We have a growing market – nine+ billion people by 2050, all of whom need to eat.
•    We have a many-faceted health challenge with aging populations, chronic diseases, and undernourished parts of the global population. Proper nutrition and diet is an answer to many of those problems
•    We are facing an energy crisis. Energy from food commodities is not the best answer. Let’s do more with solar, wind, cellulosic ethanol, bio-digesters, and energy from waste. This will keep the cost of food lower and push the margins up due to the competition for those commodities.
•    We do have an environmental challenge, if not crisis. Why aren’t we focusing more on reducing water usage, reducing waste generated, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions in our sector?
•    There is an economic opportunity – growing markets with increasing disposable income in developing markets and an increasing demand for value-added food. Let’s add that value here in Canada, export more value-added products rather than commodities, and retain the economic benefits that would create.

Since my work is often in strategic planning, let’s see what might be possible.
I like to use the term “Agri-Food Canada Inc.” as a moniker for the food sector, including food processing, agriculture, fisheries and aquaculture, key input industries and service providers, as well as our customers in the retail and foodservice industries.

What would be the mandate or mission of Agri-Food Canada Inc.? Why not “To create food that is globally competitive and financially sustainable for the whole sector by focusing on innovation, productivity and sustainability at all levels.”

What’s the vision for where we could be? What about: “By 2020, Canada is the global leader in the Agri-Food industry.” Another way to put it would be “Canada = Food.”

What could the values of that entity be? I would say:
1) Continuous innovation in all aspects;
2) Productivity leadership at all levels;
3) Sustainability and social responsibility;
4) Value chain collaboration;
5) Financial viability at all levels; and,
6) Continuous improvement in everything we do.

The strategies to execute this mission and vision would need to be:

1. Differentiating Canada as the leading provider of good, safe, ethical food with a focus on added value, health and nutrition, culinary experience from special products unique to Canada, all produced in the safest, most secure food system in the world that is both environmentally and socially responsible.
2. Put huge emphasis on:
•    Innovation to meet the market needs;
•    Fast and effective commercialization of new discoveries;
•    Continuous productivity improvement along the whole value chain working together;
•    A continuous food safety value chain including all elements from farm to fork;
•    Leading the world in sustainability, both environmental and social; and,
•    Bringing our regulatory and policy environment to a point where it is supportive of the vision.

All this would deliver targets such as:

•    A positive balance of trade in food products;
•    A higher percentage of Canadian food consumption from Canadian foods;
•    The best food safety performance in the world; and,
•    The best environmental performance in the world.

Yes, I know what you’re asking: “Could we really do that?” Why hell yes! Why would you doubt it? We have everything needed to be the best in the world. We’ll dig a little deeper next time.

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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