Unfortunately, the COVID economy will be with us for some time. And while we will likely never return to what was once “normal”, there is a way forward that can salvage our food sector. It will take innovation, cooperation, and compromise from all parties, both within the industry and the public. That leaves us with the question, is everyone willing to do their part?
Nourish’s Jo-Ann McArthur and Kahntact’s Len Kahn discussed the impact of COVID on Canada’s food industry and the disconnect between farms and consumers.
What would you do for a secure food sector?
Jo-Ann: There were many great conversations and discussions at this year’s Canada’s Outdoor (now Digital) Farm Show. While consumers trust farmers, they don’t necessarily trust or understand farming. With the veil between producer and consumer coming down during the pandemic, there is an opportunity to bridge the knowledge gap and invite those consumers in – virtually! And a common theme is the need to leverage our natural advantages in this country, with a little help from our Federal friends! Go brand Canada!
Len: It will be interesting to see how COVID has affected consumers’ interest in and engagement with the agri-food system. Past research has shown consumers have an extremely low knowledge level regarding where their food comes from but a relatively high interest in learning more. I suspect the shortages of some products and commodities at retail in the early stages of the pandemic and the increasing trend towards meal prep and consumption at home rather than eating out may expedite this trend. The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity will release its annual Public Trust Research study on November 10th; this seminal report is sure to shed more light on not only how COVID has affected consumer engagement with agri-food, but also what the future holds for the sector.
Jo-Ann: A potentially great tool to bridge the consumer/farmer gap and create understanding is Utensil.ca. We’re using it at Nourish because even the most basic agricultural terms can be hard to find online, especially with a broad focus from seed to plate – and Len’s team did the branding!
Len: Utensil.ca was launched by industry leaders Crystal Mackay and Andrew Campbell; the site offers a range of resources for both consumers and anyone in agriculture and food looking for professional development and a broader understanding of the agri-food industry.
Read the article Trade-offs necessary in food-sector COVID recovery at the Farmtario website for more on this evolving situation, including Jo-Ann and Len’s thoughts on the emergence of “two Canadas” and the role of technology on the farm.
For a deep dive into Utensil, Farmtario provides this excellent look in their article A new utensil for agriculture vocabulary and training.
How the Collapse of Foodservice Affects Us All
Has your favourite neighbourhood restaurant closed? If it hasn’t yet, it may be coming; data from Restaurants Canada shows that half of all local eateries are at risk of shuttering permanently. Beyond the restaurants, the ripple effect from a collapsing foodservice sector reaches deep into our food industry, impacting producers and suppliers nationwide.
Follow below as Jo-Ann McArthur and Len Kahn weigh in on the consumer and agri-business angles of this economic crisis. Plus, read what one major player with a vested interest in a healthy foodservice industry is doing to help both ends of the farm-to-table chain.
Jo-Ann: Restaurants are at the hub of the wheel in Canada’s future economic recovery, so as consumers, we all have a stake in restaurants’ survival. And farmers have been affected as well. That’s why it’s great to see Uber Eats launching its #FarmFresh initiative to support local farmers.
Len: When foodservice, especially in-restaurant dining, was halted across much of the country, the effects were felt practically overnight at the farm level. For example, the potato industry in Canada found itself with a significant oversupply challenge almost immediately. Simply put, there were just too many potatoes grown that were destined to be served as french fries in restaurants that were closed or only offering take-out; take-out and fresh, hot fries are not an ideal combination. The resulting problem was two-fold: i) decline in potato prices and on-farm revenue, and ii) an over-supply of potatoes in storage, which will need to be moved out before the conclusion of the 2020 potato harvest. The COVID pandemic has illustrated in no uncertain terms how interconnected our food system is.
For details about Uber Eats’ insightful (and hopefully impactful) new program, plus a behind-the-scenes peek at the farm-to-restaurant journey, you need to read Retail Insider’s recent article, Uber Eats Canada Launches FarmFresh Initiative for Exclusive Orders.
Will a Surge in Farm Tech Unleash an Economic Powerhouse on the Prairie?
Large-scale farming is far removed from the pastoral pursuits city folk see at the pick-your-own orchards and petting farms that rim the urban centres. It’s an industry, and you’re as like to see a GPS tracker as a pitchfork on a 21st-century farm.
But, there’s an ag-tech gap in Canada, and it’s preventing farmers from realizing the full economic potential of our enviable resources.
Sparked by a timely opinion piece in The Globe & Mail, Nourish President Jo-Ann McArthur and Kahntact President Len Kahn offer their own opinions on the current situation – and which way it’s trending.
Jo-Ann: Sometimes, opinions are like you-know-whats; everybody has one. In this instance, though, it was great to see this Opinion piece in the Globe & Mail. It’s time for Canada to lead and leverage our natural advantages to develop rather than import innovation! I’m a firm believer in added-value products and the economic benefits of exporting finished products instead of raw materials. Hopefully, as this piece suggests, our ag-sector is waking up to the potential in our prairies.
Len: Canadian agriculture has been a leader and aggressive early adopter of any number of recent tech innovations, including drone technology, autonomous driving tractors, and even smartphones. Several ag-focused venture capital firms and incubators have emerged recently, which should help drive domestic investment in the ag-tech sector. Among these are AG Capital Canada, led by my old Cyanamid buddy Jay Bradshaw. RH Accelerator, led by another Cyanamid alumni, Joe Dales, is forging a similar path. With this level of ag savvy, experience, and capital, I can easily see a surge in ‘made in Canada’ innovations, with the potential for domestic adoption and export.
Learn how the next wave of agri-tech in Canada could provide a welcome (and needed) jolt to our economy in this article from The Globe & Mail: Canada needs to move faster on agricultural technology investment
Kahntact president, Len Kahn, spoke with Professor Michael von Massow, Ontario Agricultural College (OAC) Chair in Food Systems Leadership at the University of Guelph, for the Food Focus podcast on predictions for food trends in the agriculture industry for this year. Listen here.
What lessons does the past hold as the farming community and industry prepare to meet the challenges of the COVID-19 crisis? Overall, agriculture remains resilient in the face of adversity – it has dealt with and recovered from disease challenges and closed markets before. Let’s review some essential case-studies. Perhaps the best-known epidemic to hit … Read More
From panic-buying, to quarantinis and now health and immunity, Canadians are more focused on the how, where and availability of their food thanks to the covid pandemic. Consumers are adopting vocabulary that’s normally reserved for processors (remember the French Fry fiasco?), and greater interest in local food is shaking up the retail supply model. Kahntact … Read More