Food In Canada

The Strategies to Compete – Leadership

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations Regulation Canada food policy Government

Industry leadership is required to help form a new national view and strategy on food

Last time I talked about the “corporate” entity called Canada Food Inc. with its “business units” comprised of value-chain partners in the various food types (for example, the “Red Meats Business Unit”), including growers and primary and further processors. I indicated that there needs to be a corporate mission, vision and strategies for the overall entity, and then each business unit would need to have strategies that tie into that overall corporate plan.

Earlier, I suggested some key corporate strategies in areas like innovation, productivity, exports, sustainability and regulatory structure, and that collaboration of the entire food system would need to be a key aspect. I had also outlined some potential key results areas and action steps in each strategy area to start to implement the plan.

Value chain roundtables

I also raised the question of where the leadership would come from to make this happen since we’re not a corporation with a board of directors and a management team. The structure might exist in the form of the value chain roundtables organized by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Each roundtable is organized around a segment of the food sector, such as grains, and each has representation from both producers and processors. They look a lot like the structure I have suggested.


So how are they doing? I’ve had a little direct exposure to one or two, and I have heard comments from members of others, both pro and con. What I gather is that they’re doing some good things, but I would also ask a couple of questions. First, in the absence of a national food strategy of the type I’ve outlined, or like the U.K.’s Food 2030 strategic plan, is there any co-ordination among the groups toward some common goals for the sector?

For example, I’ve said, as have most groups like the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute, the Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and even the St. Andrews Statement, that the Canadian sector is lacking in innovation. It’s a recognized weakness despite the great infrastructure we have in food research, commercialization, and so on. Well then, does each of the roundtables have a strategic goal, with key results areas and action steps that are focused on innovation? And if so, are they somehow tied to a national sector goal on innovation? I don’t think so.

Continuous process improvement

Another area we are always said to be weak in is productivity, usually linked to our “smaller scale,” which is not entirely the case. Lack of value chain collaboration also has a lot to do with that, as well as insufficient focus on continuous process improvement. But does each roundtable have a productivity goal with key results areas and action steps? I don’t think so.
For the most part, it’s recognized that sustainability (whether in the form of food safety, energy/environment, or social responsibility) is a growing factor and is here to stay. Do all the roundtables have a strategic focus here? How about the generally acknowledged value-added export opportunity?

Even in the area of policy and regulations there is general agreement that things need to change. Are the roundtables all feeding back to government what needs to change and why, as well as how it should change? Have there been key areas identified and some priorities assigned?

What I’m asking is “Are these roundtables taking a long-term view and focusing on the large, longer-term strategic issues and opportunities facing the sector, or are they getting sidetracked on the current day-to-day problems? And if so, is there any form of leadership to get them to lift their sights to the longer-term strategic issues?

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying – I’m not being critical of the roundtables. I’m asking what I believe to be some key questions. Are they working toward some overall vision for the sector? Is there the leadership needed at that overall level, and are they collaborating, another “must do” that all the strategy papers maintain is missing or weak in our sector.

A Canadian perspective

I guess it comes down to my belief that unless there is an overall national food vision and strategy, we will always be under-achieving. It just seems like the infrastructure to carry out this visioning/strategic planning process may exist. Let’s use it for what it could be.

The other factor I think we need to put greater focus on is getting governments at all levels to understand the size, scope and economic value of the total food sector to the Canadian economy. It’s not just the “agri-food ministries” at each level that need to understand this, but the prime minister, premiers, cabinets and so on, at all levels that need to understand this.

And finally, we must get that same message through to the general public and generate more support for the sector. This will require some marketing of our “company.” Are these not some roles for the overall leadership of the sector that could be likened to a board of directors for Canada Food Inc.? If we’re going to have the best, most successful food sector in the world, it is needed, and it is industries’ role to make it happen, not just government’s. We must work together toward goals that extend beyond our lifetimes.

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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