Food: More Than Nourishment

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It’s vital to our health and wellbeing; it’s an emotional part of our lives; and it’s core to our Canadian economy.

Many of us might recall the news of a recent food plant closure and the impact this has on jobs and communities. Or, that food processing in Canada has a trade deficit of $6.8 billion — further processed food imports have been consistently exceeding our exports, and the deficit continues to rise.

Food processing in Canada has a trade deficit of $6.8 billion

Food processing in Canada has a trade deficit of $6.8 billion

We need to understand what’s happening here, but there are inspiring stories, too. Canada’s food industry has a legacy of innovation and global excellence. Our food companies are also investing and creating great tasting new products sourced from quality ingredients from across Canada. Food processors provide farmers and ranchers with a channel to market for nearly 40 per cent of all of this country’s agricultural production.

Food is integral to our Canadian economy — it’s the number-1 manufacturing sector by number of employees and, lately, number-1 in terms of GDP — and is even larger than our auto manufacturing sector. It’s time Canadians recognize this.

The food industry has undergone significant restructuring, in many cases to consolidate manufacturing and cope with an ever-changing marketplace. Despite the challenges, there are companies that are resilient and thriving; they’ve tapped into the right combination of factors to do so.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) asked leading business schools to build 13 case studies on successful Canadian food manufacturing companies to answer one question — why are they successful? These companies span the country from family-owned to larger publicly listed companies and multinationals. Together, they display some strikingly common characteristics.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank and catalyst for agri-food policy in Canada.

The Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute (CAPI) is an independent, non-partisan think tank and catalyst for agri-food policy in Canada.

First, without clarity of purpose from the CEO and senior leaders, companies cannot thrive. Ferreros Canadian-led North American operations are focused on producing truly unique products that are virtually impossible to duplicate. And Bonduelle Americas’ focus on harnessing the value chain in processing frozen vegetables sets it apart from competitors. These and the other companies truly make their purpose come alive with employees, suppliers and customers.

Companies with layers of uniqueness are able to differentiate themselves — it’s the essence of innovation. Quebec’s Domaine Pinnacle is a family-owned company that quickly became the largest global producer of ice cider by defying boundaries and creating a new category. Saskatchewan-based InfraReady excels at delivering innovative grain and pulse products to global customers and backs them by meeting a long list of quality standards, including kosher and halal. Multiple points of differentiation make companies competitive.

Quality relationships with stakeholders propel businesses forward. Alberta’s Heritage Frozen Foods, makers of the popular Cheemo perogy brand, prides itself on its relationships with Alberta potato growers and with grocery retailers who manage the freezer space. Group Leclerc, a leader in the cookies and snack bars business, strives to enhance relationships with technical and research institutions to drive product innovation.

Makers of the popular Cheemo perogy brand prides itself on its relationships with Alberta potato growers

Makers of the popular Cheemo perogy brand prides itself on its relationships with Alberta potato growers

The profiled companies revealed their ‘‘secret sauce" to uniquely position themselves for growth. While they have seemingly overcome the challenges facing the sector as a whole — exchange rate swings, regulatory complexities, pressures on margins and shifting consumer preferences — there are no assurances that we can continue to nurture or attract these companies in the future.

This is why the fourth factor of success is so important — supportive external conditions. We need food manufacturing companies to excel here because this is a leading economic sector. Global consumers should increasingly want what Canada has to offer: good, safe, nutritious and sustainably produced food. Ensuring that Canadian food companies can be globally competitive and meet such consumer food needs is key. Government at all levels needs to work together on the conditions required to support these companies. It starts by acknowledging that this is the largest manufacturing sector in Canada. Companies need to do their part — and these case examples point the way.

It’s time we show our Canadian pride and be smart by recognizing what our food industry can do for our economy and communities across this country for generations to come.

 
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