Food In Canada

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Food in Canada   

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Gary Fread considers the future of Canada Food Inc.

I’ve spent a lot of time talking about developing a National Food Strategy for Canada Food Inc. as if it were a multi-division corporation with many business units and brands all reporting to a CEO and a senior management team, and ultimately responsible to a Board of Directors. Well, as we all know, Canada Food Inc. is not that. It is far more diverse than that, and not structured like a corporation, nor should it be. However, some of the approaches a corporation would use to develop a strategic plan could also be applied to Canada Food Inc.


For example, I’ve talked about the market analysis in terms of consumer trends and some widely used strategic analysis formats such as a PEST Analysis, a 5 Forces Analysis, and a SWOT Analysis, and I still believe they have a place in developing our National Food Strategy.



If a corporation were carrying these out, how would it take place? Well, the CEO and senior management team (including the business unit heads) would be the ones who manage the process, and yes, the individual business units would be consulted and have input, but the overall goal would be to come up with a corporate strategic plan that all business units would have to relate to in their operations. This then would be presented and “sold” to the Board of Directors, who might challenge some issues, or add some ideas. The final plan that evolved out of this would have a relatively small number of strategies with definitive action plans to accomplish them. These then would be presented to each business unit so that they could adapt their business focus as needed to accomplish the corporate goals.


But Canada Food Inc. doesn’t have a CEO and senior management team. It doesn’t have a Board of Directors, and what I’ve referred to as “business units,” which are really commodity-based sectors with many companies involved.


So without that structure, how could we accomplish this? I believe the essential structural components are there, but not in a “corporate” format. Let’s have a look.


The “business units” could be related to the various commodity sectors, including their entire value chain. For instance, we have a red meat sector, a poultry sector, a dairy sector, and so on. Within each of these is what I have referred to as “brands,” such as Canada Beef or Canada Pork.


Now, as we know, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) has created a number of Value Chain Roundtables (VCRT) that are related to those “business units” and/or “brands,” each having co-chairs. And then there is an All Chairs Forum, which includes those co-chairs, that meets periodically with the deputy minister to update on progress, and to present requests. These VCRTs have looked at some key strategic issues such as labour availability, food safety and traceability, research and innovation, health and nutrition, market access, environmental impact, and transportation infrastructure. However, we do not have a complete slate of VCRTs. For example, there are none for the poultry sector or the dairy sector, and food processing gets lumped together under one VCRT.


In addition, groups such as CAPI, the Conference Board, and the Canadian Federation of Agriculture have done some very useful studies and have started to steer the thought process a bit in the direction that I’ve been speaking to. Valuable work has been done by these groups based on some fairly in-depth analyses. This work needs to be, and is being used by the VCRTs to a great extent in deciding on their directions.


So, could we not consider/restructure the All Chairs Forum to be the “senior management team” for Canada Food Inc.? They could develop a draft strategic plan for Canada Food Inc. and present it to whom? We don’t have a Board of Directors. Well, since the All Chairs Forum meets periodically with the deputy minister of AAFC, could that person be the “Chairman of the Board” with a “Board of Directors” who might be the deputy ministers of the provincial agriculture and food ministries? And we would need to, in all likelihood, include participants from Fisheries and Oceans and Industry Canada who have strong involvement in the agri-food sector as well.


So with that approach, we could develop a National Food Strategy with linked in “business unit” strategic plans that would contribute to its success, but also be varied to a degree to meet the needs of those individual sub-sectors of the agri-food sector.


Does that sound too far off-base to work? I think it could work and is worth a try. Virtually all of the pieces exist and are working on these types of issues, but not so much as a complete national sector such as Canada Food Inc.


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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