Food strategy goals include innovation

Niche opportunities | Consumer demand for novel, nutritious food will spur food industry

Canada needs to look both within and outside its borders to develop its food industry, says the Conference Board of Canada’s Canadian Food Strategy.

The strategy emphasizes the expansion of national initiatives to improve global competitiveness and increase exports. However, it also acknowledges the growing demand for local food and its importance to small and medium-sized farms and processors.

“If we chose, Canada can move from being a Top 20 net food exporter to be among the top five food exporting powers of the world, a global food superpower,” the strategy states.

“At the same time, domestic opportunities abound. Canadians seek new foods to improve and sustain their health. Multibillion-dollar niche markets are growing for natural, organic, local, ethnic and convenience food.”

The strategy lays out eight goals, including increased collaboration for investment, research and development; value-chain development and managerial improvement; innovation in areas such as crop yields and novel food products; and im-provements in the country’s regulatory approach. Other goals focus on improving access to safe, healthy and nutritious food.

Michael Bloom, the strategy’s author and conference board vice-president for industry and business development, said learning from the past is the key to successfully implementing the strategy.

He pointed to examples such as the organic industry, the development of canola as a major crop, the Ontario wine grape industry and the government-led effort to reduce salt consumption.

Bloom said the success of the organic industry was driven by consumer demand. It has grown from one percent of retail sales in 1998 to a $3.7 billion industry today supported by 58 percent of Canadians.

The canola industry, in contrast, has its roots in government and university research, which farmers, processors and other food industry players took advantage of by commercializing the crop.

Bloom said today’s grape industry has similar roots, but the government involvement began with a plan rather than research. In this case, complaints from Europe forced Canada to drop its tariffs and redesign the industry.

Government responded by funding growers to tear out their North American vines and replace them with the more desired viniferous varieties from Europe.

Bloom said that instead of relying on a monopoly through the Liquor Control Board of Ontario, the province’s wine industry was transformed to compete with wines of world-class quality.

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