Food sector opportunities abound, says report

Markets offshore | Benefits of Canadian brand are not promoted, says Conference Board of Canada

TORONTO — It is time to make the public more aware of how important the food sector is in Canada, says a recently released strategy paper from the Conference Board of Canada.

“Every country in the world can make a car, but not everybody can grow food like we can,” said Michael Bloom, vice-president of industry and business strategy at the conference board.

Countries like Canada can meet the growing demand for healthy, wholesome food and still remain profitable and environmentally responsible, he added.

“The capacity to meet this global demand, the potential is here in this country. If we are serious about it, we can certainly do it,” he told the recent Canadian Meat Council annual meeting, where he summarized the recently published Canadian Food Strategy.

The 60-page document outlines a number of goals, and the conference board promises to release regular report cards on Canada’s progress.

The report says there is no real shared national vision for food, even though the sector contributes more than eight percent of Canada’s gross domestic product.

GDP could be increased if Canada resolved to move from being a top 20 net food exporter to one of the world’s top five food exporting powers, he added.

The report also said that Canada’s food safety program is probably among the top five in the world, but it could be number one with collaboration between the food sector and government to build an international brand concept.

The Canadian brand would be based on an image of a clean environment, strong food safety standards and unique products. Government and private companies could promote that pristine concept. They could also work together to promote regional specialization such as Alberta beef or Quebec cheese

“The Canada brand, we think, has huge potential in international markets,” Bloom said.

Many Canadian food companies tend to focus on the domestic market, when the big opportunities are offshore, where there is a need for premium international brands.

“The typical Canadian company is domestically focused. For them, when they talk about exporting, they mean moving stuff to another province,” he said.

Bloom said more management training is needed to help the food sector grow in the highly profitable international market.

He said food traceability also wins international customers for Canadian products. The ability to trace back food would have to be priced into the product.

Canadians expect their food to be safe but often will not pay more for it.

“They want it safest in the world, cheapest in the world. They want it all,” Bloom said.

“The real cost of food for Canadians in terms of their actual income is about half of what it was in 1960. They have never had it so cheap, but that doesn’t mean they feel satisfied,” he said.

Canada also needs to show that its food production systems follow environmentally sustainable practices. However, producers and processors need a real measure of their environmental footprint and should be rewarded for their efforts.

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