Food In Canada

Why we need to change

By Gary Fread   

Business Operations competitiveness

Gary Fread considers why we need a national food strategy

Over the past year, we’ve looked at what needs to happen to make the Canadian food sector more competitive in a global market place. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there saying to themselves and others, “Why do we need to change? What’s wrong with what we’re doing? Why do we need a vision for the national sector? Why do we need a strategic plan, we’re not a corporation?” And so on. Let’s attempt to answer some of those questions.

First, why change?

You know the old adage, “Do what you’ve always done and get what you’ve always got.” What is happening to us? Well, while the food industry in total is the largest sector of the Canadian economy, it is losing ground in some ways. There are more competing food imports into Canada than ever before, and they are growing.

While still growing, we are not keeping up with the jump in exports in the global market to the degree we could. Our new investment in plants and technology is not as good as it could be. In other words, we’re slowly losing ground. And the world around us is changing fast. We need a vision or destination for where we want to be in the long term. If you don’t know where you’re going (i.e., a chosen destination), any road will take you there (or somewhere).


Look at the market dynamics

With the global population headed toward nine billion by 2050 we need more food or there could be several billion in famine mode. It’s our social responsibility to produce as much as we can. We have a huge natural resource base of land, water and oceans to produce that food, and that must be preserved to do so. Yet we’re taking land out of food production at a fast rate to make more cities, or, in some cases, quarries. We need to put more focus on preserving that resource base and making it as productive as possible. That takes a combined, concerted effort by all in the industry and all who impact the industry.

There are also emerging competitors in China, India and Latin America – all around the world. How can we produce our products so that we are able to compete with those emerging competitors in both the domestic and global markets? We need that vision of being the best – the most competitive – in order to meet those competitors successfully.

The food industry is a complex interconnected system

If we are working towards a common long-term goal, we will be more effective in our use of that system. Instead, we have so many separate pieces working alone that we work against ourselves. We don’t have a single national food sector. At best we have 10 provincial ones and one national one – 11 in total. I’m not even sure that all those 11 actually have a vision.

Beef competes with pork, and chicken competes with turkey for the same consumer dollars. Red meat competes with poultry and seafood, and meat protein competes with plant protein. None of that is going to change, but we need to work together to make sure we’re listening to the global market needs and adapting – as a total sector – to those needs by applying innovation, improving productivity and doing it all sustainably. Instead we have, in virtually every commodity, 11 commodity associations – 10 working for their own provincial ends and often competing with one another, and the national association, not working together to be a globally competitive sector. I admit some do it better than others, but consider what could be if we all worked together toward a common goal?

An industry vision

A common national vision for the industry could accomplish so much. We wouldn’t be trading off this commodity versus that commodity; we wouldn’t be ditching one province’s industry for another; and we would be trying to be the best that we can be in total in Canada and in the world.

That’s how I view the need to change. I hope it answers some of the questions. Next time, let’s look at why we need a national strategy and strategic plan for the food sector.

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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