08 February 2018

A major conference on issues facing the agri-food industry


This was a welcome first for the NSF CIRANO "Let's Take the Lead Together!" initiative, held on February 1st at the Sofitel Hotel in Montréal. A multi-disciplinary and multi-sectoral event.


150 people, representatives of the entire Quebec agri-food industry (from producers to retailers and restaurant operators), as well as researchers, attended this high-level conference day outlining the outlook for the food industry in the years to come. Many issues were raised and solutions were proposed by the speakers.


The first intervention to open the day was made by Peter Hall, Vice-President and Chief Economist of Export Development Canada (EDC). He delighted the participants with very promising economic opportunities as the demand for food is exploding worldwide. But we will have to deal with the complexity of consumer expectations," warned Alain Tadros, Vice-President Marketing at Metro. To do so, follow the behaviors of millennials and today's technological innovations that prefigure the impacts on business models. "E-commerce is going to revolutionize the retail industry," demonstrated JoAnne Labrecque, Professor at HEC Montréal and CIRANO Fellow.


Certainly new tools will help the industry adapt. To illustrate these new technologies and their applications for the agri-food industry, Rob Chester, Director NSF UK, and Jen Tong of NSF presented a portable technology developed with Google and Louis Roy, President and Founder of Optel, presented the concept of intelligent supply chains. In addition, Jean Bédart, President and Chief Executive Officer of Sportscene Group, spoke about the importance of leadership in supporting change in the company.


The end-of-day panel moderated by La Presse columnist Alain Dubuc brought together representatives of Quebec's food industry leaders (Agropur, Fruit d'Or, Groupe St-Hubert) and the Retail Council of Canada. After reviewing some of the issues raised during the day, they presented concrete solutions put in place to adapt to the sometimes complex and ambivalent expectations of consumers. "It is important not only to get closer to the consumer, but also, and above all, to involve them," stresses Simon Olivier, Agropur's VP Strategy and R&D, mentioning the international co-creation challenge they have just launched, supported by open innovation. The importance of organic products was evoked by Martin Le Moyne, CEO of Fruit d'Or, and Annick Labrosse, VP Marketing of Rôtisseries St-Hubert, shared with participants the challenges her company faces in meeting the current demand for organic chicken. Marc Fortin, CEO of the Retail Council of Canada, spoke about the importance of technology and e-commerce in liberalizing choices in grocery stores.


In addition, academic research was presented in relation to current industry issues. In particular, an analysis of eco-certification for seafood products was presented by Jean-Claude Brêthes from the Université du Québec à Rimouski. The preliminary results of a CIRANO-CRIBIQ-INAF study on food fraud were analyzed by Serban Teodorescu, Global Manager CTS at NSF International. Another CIRANO study on the value of food certifications was presented by Ingrid Peignier, Partners Relations and Communications Director at CIRANO. The results show, among other things, the value that consumers place on Quebec products. These studies provide the industry with structuring elements for the strategies to be implemented in companies.


Other issues were raised by experts in the room concerning the food industry: labour, productivity, waste, climate change, international trade agreements... the challenges are numerous. In response, Nathalie de Marcellis-Warin, President and Chief Executive Officer at CIRANO and Full Professor at Polytechnique Montréal, closed the day by proposing the creation of a Leadership Forum led by CIRANO to reflect together and guide university research. This inclusive sharing initiative would be intended for all players in the agri-food chain in Quebec to discuss the issues of the future and better prepare for them. This is truly a new approach that was welcomed by the audience, who also expressed their wish to renew such an inspiring day next year.


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