For the past 20 years, Earl Geddes has travelled to more than 45 countries exploring and developing markets for Canadian foods, both in his current role as President of Progression Consulting and formerly as CEO of Canadian International Grains Institute and in senior market development capacities at The Canadian Wheat Board. We asked Mr. Geddes for his views on global drivers influencing growth opportunities for Canadian food suppliers, and what growers should do in order to explore their export potential.
What are some key drivers creating demand for Canadian agri-food opportunities overseas?
Demographics combined with economic growth. India is a good example because the country as a whole is focused on educating their population – a population that in 2025 will equal or exceed China’s of 1.4 billion people. A more educated population means higher income levels, more jobs and more households with two working parents. Therefore, products like convenience foods will be in higher demand, much like here in North America.
Another driver is food security, especially in countries that rely on imported foods. For example, Qatar in the Middle East imports all of its food. For them it is a simple question, am I going to have access to bulk food to feed my population?
What are some examples of foreign market opportunities for Canadian food producers?
I see India as one of the big opportunities. The country has a tremendous food production capacity, but today India loses as much as 25 per cent of what they produce to inadequate storage facilities, weather and rodents. That rate is not sustainable in a country with such dramatic food consumption increases on the horizon. There is likely going to be strong demand for proper grain storage and material handling equipment.
Why would foreign competitors take a chance on Canadian suppliers?
It’s the Canadian brand. The brand that we have as a country is about integrity, cleanliness and food safety. Plus, we are seen as having the best products in the world.
What does it take for potential suppliers to venture into these markets?
To create a marketplace for your product, you have to be able to supply it, or someone else will. Many importers want a constant supply, so if their country’s population increases and they suddenly want twice the amount of goods, it’s up to you to supply them. Also, knowledge is integral. Understand how the potential marketplace functions and how the distribution is laid out. The easiest way is to travel to the country you’re interested it and experience it firsthand.
Where should Canadian food producers interested in exporting start?
Every province has a provincial food development institute, so that’s a great place to start. You pay for it with your tax dollars, so go get advice on opportunities. If you’re interested in how field crops are used in global markets the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) is a great resource. Also, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada has insight on what is going on around the world.
Give me your best advice on the next step for those interested.
Get on a plane and go and see the market. Once you are there contact the local trade commissioner and they will help you understand the market and meet the key players.
This interview was edited and condensed.