You get what you focus on

October 23, 2012 at 7:40 pm Leave a comment

Rebecca Dee-Bradbury, Kraft Food’s Australasian Chief, believes that “you get what you focus on” and as a result, Australia  is primarily seen as a raw material supplier to Asia.  According to Dee-Bradley, the Australian food industry should be more than Asia’s commodity food supplier.  If Australia is not seen to be a high-value food innovator, what does this say about Canada?

In Canada, much of our  focus has been on production, resulting in commodities that we ship outside the country for others to add value and return home. All at a higher price, of course.  On the one hand, we should be proud of the high quality raw materials that we export globally. Both private and public sectors have invested heavily in order to provide customers with the traits that they desire. On the other hand, much effort has been made to export raw materials. As such only 45% of Canada’s agriculture outputs go directly to the processing sector here at home.  It seems there is a great opportunity for our collective industry on two fronts — to improve the domestic market for our own quality raw materials, and to increase exports of higher value products.

In an interesting analogy, Australia’s food processing industry has experienced a number of challenges in the past few years. This includes rising input costs and a high dollar value, which has driven a number of companies to close factories or relocate off-shore. Unfortunately, similar issues are facing the Canadian food processing industry. In a similar analogy, Dee-Bradley is the food industry representative on the Australian Prime Minister’s Task Force on Manufacturing. Interestingly, most of Australia’s recent successes in processed foods marketed to Asia incorporate local agriculture materials. Recently, Canada formed a new Agri-Innovation committee, with 8 producer, and 2 food industry representatives.  This new committee is tasked with providing advice to the Minister on “agricultural innovation”.   Borrowing the quote from Rebecca Dee-Bradley, is Canada’s agri-innovation focus too narrow, or should it broaden to include more of the food manufacturing sector? To paraphrase another well-known quote “what’s good for the processing sector may be good for the agriculture sector”.

The Australian task force will  recommend the creation of a globally relevant food innovation centre. This will bring together a collaboration of existing organizations, and will be modelled on Singapore’s Food Innovation and Resource Centre. In Canada, we have a number of food innovation centres, located in each province. These centres work with producers, primary processors and value-added manufacturers to commercialize innovative products and ingredients, which are exported to 180 countries  The majority of these are based on local agriculture products.  While the centres are networked through FOODTECH Canada, for the most part, centres and their industry clients, do not play a significant role in the  federal agricultural innovation dialogue.

According to one Australian food member, there is much dismay that Australia has little international clout in the value-added sector, stating “it’s incredible to think that Singapore itself sees a great future in food processing, so why don’t we?  Canada could take notice of these global efforts and show the world that like Australia, we can also do more than just “digging and planting”.

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Entry filed under: Food Industry News, Innovation News. Tags: , , , , , .

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