A lot remains to be done to give the Canada brand the global cachet needed to make Canadian food exports international bestsellers, a series of cross-country workshops has concluded.
Organized by Canada 2020, the workshops will conclude in November with a session in the national capital that is intended to pull together the ideas that emerged during the workshops into an action plan to present to the government.
“We want to hit the ground running after the election to elevate our economic agenda with the government,” said organizer David McInnes.
A central theme that has emerged in the workshops is the need to make sustainability a key component of farming and food processing across the country, he said.
“We’re competing in a new world order and we have to protect our reputation,” McInnes said.” We’re in a more demanding marketplace and we need to be able to prove our food safety and sustainability claims. Consumer trust, animal care and sustainability are all linked to the Canada brand.”
The Canadian Roundtable for Beef Sustainability has developed a globally recognized brand that is an excellent example of what the entire agri-food sector has to adopt, he said, noting growing demand for sustainable products is a global trend.
“It’s key to differentiating our products from other countries,” McInnes said.
The common themes that have emerged during the Canada 2020 workshops are also prominent in the recent Senate agriculture committee report on the value-added sector, an upcoming release by the Canadian Agri-Food Policy Institute and the election strategies developed by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture and the Canadian Agri-Food Trade Alliance. Then there is the 2018 report from the agri-food strategy table and before it the 2016 Barton report.
In other words, the time has come to walk the talk, McInnes said, noting that will require establishing “credible metrics” that prove to international customers that Canadian food production is sustainable. Making the Canada brand credible around the world will be a catalyst for profitability in the entire food system and that means the agri-food industry has to take the lead in developing it.
“Every player in the food system has a role to play while governments should remain a critical player by supporting innovation and having an internationally respected regulatory system,” McInnes said.
Making the Canada brand a world leader will be a complex task because the Canadian food sector is so diverse, he said. That means it’s more than just promotion and marketing. It’s about how claims are validated, and how sustainability is managed.
“That comes through paying attention to measuring what matters,” he said. “We have to remember that folks get very emotional about where their food comes from. We need to become more strategic to meet international standards. The domestic and global supply chains will expect more.”
The workshops made it clear that Canada has to be very clear in its aim to be a world leader in sustainability, he said. Not only does that entail having a good environment for growing food but also being “a great place to invest and a great place to be a future food producer.”
Canada needs to be a place that will sustainably produce more food — not less — while retaining consumer trust and confidence in the markets we serve,” McInnes said.
“Canada needs to own this outcome — the basis to differentiate and succeed in the unfolding global food system.”
Currently Canada’s average corporate sustainability score ranks a C minus, says CDP, a global index that measures environmental performance of more than 7,000 companies and several hundred states, regions and cities.