Thirteen years ago, a number of food processors gathered in
Burlington and formed the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors.
Their aim was to elevate the profile of the food and beverage
processing sector within the province.
Over time, there was an awareness building that the food and
beverage industry as a whole was siloed and not speaking with one
voice. In August 2014, the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors
re-structured and re-branded the organization to become Food and
Beverage Ontario. The mandate was refreshed to represent all
categories and sizes of Ontario food and beverage processing
businesses in the province. FBO's CEO Norm Beal was there from
Beal says: "Over a year and a half ago, we started working
on a completely different governance model based on one member, one
vote. We rolled that out at our annual general meeting a year ago
last July. To coincide with that, we felt very strongly that if we
were taking this new approach, we ought to rebrand the
Food and Beverage Ontario is made up of 16 board members that
represent small, medium and large businesses from every sector
within the industry.
In addition to their major membership drive, Beal says that Food
and Beverage Ontario currently has two main initiatives: "One
is building an innovation resource that processors across the
province can use to develop new products and technologies, as well
as modernize plants." The association is also working to
attract new and young people into the industry as a first career
Beal, who also sits on the Premier's Growth Steering
Committee, says that 18 months ago, at the Agri-Food Summit in
Toronto, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne challenged the industry to
grow by 120,000 jobs. Beal explains that the industry is already
the largest employer in the Province of Ontario, providing over
130,000 jobs. The Premier's challenge means doubling its size.
Beal says this means the government recognises that food processing
is not only the largest manufacturing sector in the province, but
also the one with the most potential for growth.
It is more than the prospect of jobs in the province that is
exciting. Beal explains that Ontario's food and beverage
industry is well regarded on the international scene.
"When you go to places like China, Taiwan or Thailand, or
even over to Western Europe, (Ontario has) a great reputation for
quality and food safety. But we don't do a very good job of
The goal, Beal says, is to change that.
Beal sees growth coming from innovation, and says the innovators
are small producers with potential to expand. Currently, there are
only 50 to 75 large food processors out of over 3,000 in
Beal says recent immigrants to the country are the cornerstone
of innovation. He explains: "Many of them are the 'ma and
pa operations' that are sitting around the kitchen table at
night, thinking: "Remember when we used to have that great
food product in our home country? I think that would do really,
really well here." Those companies have the potential to grow
from five or six employees to 50, 60, 70, 100 employees
Beal points out it's the small producers that, through
innovation, will grow into medium-sized corporations that could
employ 250 to 1,000 people in five to 10 years from now. The small
and medium-sized organizations are the ones making substantial
investments, both in human and capital resources.
Beal also sees growth in the field of healthy and value-added
"Healthy, local, gluten-free... those are key phrases these
days. That's the future of our industry. That's what many
of our small and innovative processors are doing. Ontario is known
for producing unique products."
What Does This Mean for Food and Beverage Ontario?
"We need a strong organization that's going to speak on
behalf of all processors, whether they're small, medium or
large, whether they're in dairy, chicken processing, wine or
craft beer, that can speak to the macro issues; to make sure that
the government doesn't put in place impediments to the future
success of the industry." As the economy adjusts and the
automotive industry continues to decline, the province's food
and beverage industry continues to grow and expand. We can all
raise a glass of wine to that.
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