In Sales and Employment, Food Manufacturing is #1

Today the Globe and Mail reported that the food sector is the largest manufacturing industry by sales. According to the Globe, sales set a record last year, topping $800 billion – more than textiles, paper, machinery and aerospace combined. Food manufacturing also surpassed transportation equipment to become the industry’s top employer.  Even during the recession, as most other sectors slumped, food sales kept growing.

The paper goes on to report that the sector is not without its challenges. These include the strong Canadian dollar which has an inverse effect on exports, as well as high commodity prices and, what some consider, an outdated regulatory system when it comes to approving new foods and food claims. 

While Canada currently relies heavily on the US market, many companies are knocking on other country’s doors, including the UK, Japan, and China. Canada’s reputation as a provider of clean, healthy and high quality products often helps open doors according to manufacturers looking to expand their export reach.

The growth of the value added sector is only good news for many of Canada’s agriculture and fisheries producers, as  Canadian processors are the single largest buyer, taking nearly half of their outputs. So, how does the industry keep this position? What is needed from processors, producers and government to maintain this growth? Several organizations, such as CAPI and the Conference Board, are exploring ways to better collaborate and innovate, with new models for working together. FOODTECH Canada believes more coordinated activity between  ‘service’ providers, such as universities, colleges, and our own food and bio-technology centres, will help industry supply the products globe-trotting and health-focused consumers are looking for.

Being a significant sector, calls for robust oversight that is supportive and strategic. FOODTECH puts out a call for government and organizations that work with the food sector from start to finish, to ensure that we continue to collectively enhance the industry’s position in Canada and around the globe.

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July 21, 2011 at 12:03 pm Leave a comment

Input into Growing Forward 2 policy discussion

Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada invites interested parties to join the discussion on the future of agriculture policy and help develop the next policy framework – Growing Forward 2. 

FOODTECH also encourages participation in this ongoing public consultation, recognizing the significance of agriculture and food manufacturing to this country.  Charting the Way Forward to 2020, a discussion paper, provides the framework for the next agriculture policy and there are a number of references made regarding Canada’s food needs. These include future trends that will shape what food products will be demanded by local and global markets in the years ahead. It also mentions growth in export trade for agri-food products and notes that three quarters of Canadian processed food is sold in the domestic marketplace.

In particular, the policy is focussing on these areas: Competitiveness & Market Growth, and Adaptability & Sustainability. In some cases these terms refer primarily to agriculture, such as “sustainability” that  includes risk management programs targeted to farming operations. However, sustainability can also involve helping processors address consumers concerns about manufacturing foods with lower water and energy inputs, or beter utilization of by-products. Or, it can refer to better managed distribution systems that avoid food waste.  Therefore, it is important to have a robust dialogue with everyone that is intimately connected with our agriculutre and food sector.  This includes producers, processors, input suppliers, distributors, buyers, and sellers of Canada’s agriculture and food products. From these, future policies should reflect the important win-win relationship between agriculture and food, and supporting sectors, helping to create conditions that strengthen these economically valuable connections.  

A number of consultations have ocucred across the country, with a few sessions remaining open. You can also send comments electronically. For background information on Growing Forward 2,  and information on the consultations, go to: http://www.agr.gc.ca/GrowingForward2

June 13, 2011 at 6:06 pm Leave a comment

Food is getting it’s own political identity

According to a recent Globe & Mail article, for the first time in Canadian election history, food becomes a political priority. Each of the country’s federal parties have included strategies that highlight food as a distinct priority separate from agriculture. This extent of this varies by party. The Globe offers a summary of party platforms by category, that gives highlights of each party’s “food” focus.

This is positive recognition of the mutually supporting nature of “agriculture” and “food”. In Canada, the food industry is the single largest buyer of Canada’s agriculture outputs. We’d like to see this continue to grow. In order to do this, we need a healthy production system and a vibrant food processing industry.  It’s not beneficial to focus on only one part of this increasingly interdependant value chain.

However, one apparent omission in the political platforms is the word “food industry” (with the exception of the Liberal party which promotes export support for food and beverage processors).  We propose that supporting research and innovation for the value-added processing industry, in addition to agriculture, will have a significant effect on the economy. This sector is already a major force in Canada as the second largest manufacturing industry. More importantly though, a stronger Canadian processing industry will have a profound impact on the agriculture sector as it generates market pull for producer outputs. Let’s truly recognize Canada’s “agri” and “food” industries as significant sectors that work very well together and with support, can continue to grow their national and global positions.

April 15, 2011 at 12:34 pm 2 comments

What helps the Food Industry innovate?

Recently, there has been much discussion on the need for Canada to do a better job being “innovative”, including the food industry. Overall, Canada doesn’t rank very high on the global index of innovation capacity, placed at 14 compared to 17 nations.  We hear concern that industry investment in R&D (1.06%) is only half of government’s investment (1.9%), but industry is not far off the mark as a percentage of government spending, compared to other G7 countries, (55% vs 63%). Research investment  is only one indicator of innovation performance. Apparently though, Canada does not fare much better with other indicators, such as technology exchange and transfer of knowledge.   

While this data reflects a number of industries, we know that the food sector is in a similar position. At the same time, the food industry is not entirely the same as other manufacturing sectors, with more incremental innovation and shorter turn arounds.  To do a better job at being innovative, what we need is more engaged discussion on how the industry can be supported throughout the innovation process. Innovation can happen at any step along the commercialization continuum – sometimes close to the end. While discovery and other research activities are essential to uncovering new solutions, it is not the only source of innovation.  At the same time, taking a proof of concept through to market entry requires significant effort and investment . Are we aware of where are the gaps and barriers that inhibit more activity in creating innovative food and bio-products and technologies?

Aside from R&D investment, how well do we maximize research outputs, from our own country and from others? Is the industry well positioned to take proven technologies from other countries and adapt them here at home? Does industry have support to manage risk through the so-called “valley of death” from the lab bench, through the scale-up process?

There has been much  focus on “innovation” from a number of federal agencies that support R&D and application of research. The question is…. do we have a good understanding of how industry can best innovate, through the research and technology transfer process?  We encourage everyone that is involved in enhancing “innovation” in the food industry to share their knowledge of what Canada needs to improve its position with respect to Innovation Performance.

March 29, 2011 at 1:06 pm Leave a comment

Growing the Canadian Food Processing Sector

Recently, Agriculture & Agri-Food Canada announced it’s plans for “Growing the Canadian Food Processing Sector” through an Industry/Government Action Plan. The plan was jointly developed by government and industry representatives through various roundtable meetings held in 2009 and 2010. 

FOODTECH Canada fully endorses the action plan, as it is well known within the centres that the food industry is extremely significant to Canada. According to the plan, the food and beverage processing industry is the largest manufacturing industry in Canada accounting for 17% of all manufacturing shipments. It provides employment for nearly 300,000 Canadians and is also the largest market for Canada’s agriculuture products.

One area of action plan focuses on innovation as it relates to competitiveness. It is suggested that the Canadian food processing sector lacks the scale and commercialization mechanisms to effectively utilize primary research and therefore, must become much better “rapid adaptors” or “fast followers”. FOODTECH centres are involved in helping industry source global information regarding new technologies and processes and adopt them to their own manufacturing systems. However, this process costs money and it is recognized that many of the department’s programs do not apply to the processing sector. Therefore, the action plan recommends that “forthcoming programs and policies are developed with a lens of the value chain”, meaning that both producers and processors would have access to them.

FOODTECH Canada supports the strategies identified in the action plan while we continue to support the food industry in their innovation, technology transfer and commercialtion activities.

February 11, 2011 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

Health Canada requests feedback on sodium targets

In response to the Sodium Working Group (SWG)’s recommendations issued in its final report, Sodium Reduction Strategy for Canada, Health Canada has been working to establish sodium reduction targets for foods sold in Canada.

According to Health Canada, setting targets for sodium content in foods is complex since the role and function of salt, and other sodium-containing additives and ingredients, vary depending on the nature of the food. As such, they are seeking feedback to ensure that the proposed targets are substantive and realistic, thereby achieving the public health goal of reducing dietary sodium intakes while taking into account potential technical or transitional issues.

The consultation is posted on their website at http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/consult/2011-sodium/consultation-eng.php . The deadline for submissions is January 31, 2011.

Health Canada also held a webinar which provided an overview of the proposed targets. The webinar will be available for 12 months to view. Following the webinar, representatives from Health Canada will also be available to meet upon request during the month of January – either by teleconference or in person in Ottawa – to discuss issues related to the draft targets. Please send meeting requests to sodium@hc-sc.gc.ca.

January 24, 2011 at 1:29 pm Leave a comment

14 foods that deliver research-documented benefits to health

Washington, Jan 16 : Trying to incorporate more nutritious foods into your diet? An article in the January issue of a magazine from the Institute of Food Technology has listed 14 foods that deliver research-documented benefits to health. via 14 foods that deliver research-documented benefits to health.

FOODTECH Canada’s food technology centres help companies to incorporate these (and other) healthful ingredients into their products.

January 17, 2011 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

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