Building Competitiveness in the Food Sector conjures up a long list of required capabilities at an industry level. As the second largest sector in the Canadian Economy with 3,000 food and beverage processors dotting the Province of Ontario alone, the potential to be competitive on a local, regional or even global scale is limited only by our own internal business strategies, our willingness to embrace innovation, and a keen understanding of what our customer truly wants and is willing to pay for. Growth is definitely not without some element of risk but with good visioning and a solid business and strategic plan as the foundation, constructing a strong competitive position in the marketplace can certainly make an impact on "building" the potential for success...
Not long ago, we brought together three exemplary business leaders from different sub-sectors of the food industry who have all had substantial experience and continued success in growing their companies:
* Bob Leonidas, President, Claridge Food Group
* Mark Josephs, President, Kisko Products
* Greg Merlihan, Director of Sales, Karma Candy
Our Speakers very candidly shared their perspectives on what it takes to build and then sustain a business in today's environment. Discussion formed around growth opportunities such as expanding market share, forging strategic partnerships, leveraging workforce capabilities, enhancement of production, culture, sales, packaging etc. the list goes on - in essence all things related to what it takes to become and sustain a position of business competitiveness within the food sector today.
President and CEO - Claridge Food Group and bobleonidas.com Inc.
An excellent speaker and well known in the Food Industry, Bob Leonidas certainly understands what it takes to make a company succeed in regional and global environments - strong leadership, clear vision and goal-setting, solid branding, development of innovative products, marketing strategies, and so forth. Bob started discussion on our topic of choice with a presentation entitled "Winning and Growing in Consumer Products". He cited a recent Globe and Mail article that spoke to the relevance of Innovation and that "innovation" was definitely one of the keys in staying competitive today. Bob also emphasized the importance of not just setting a plan but working that plan to achievement and taking the time to celebrate the goals reached. Our core business drives our company forward. Too many find themselves caught fighting fires and mired in the day to day trials of our organizations and as a result, we lose site of the opportunities just within grasp. Setting a plan and working to it will provide us with clear direction and help steer us away from that "fire-fighting" role.
There are three ways to grow a business - top-line sales, bottom line opportunities, andthrough our people (drawing out their strengths). Engagement is fundamental to business success and regardless of which of those three areas you elect to concentrate your efforts, you must clearly define the criteria required to meet those goals and then monitor them consistently. This should in turn, lend to engagement and contribute to the success of the growth of your business.
When it comes to brand building, Bob asked us to consider an approach of renovation and innovation. What does the pipeline coming down the road look like? How do we interact with customers? How well are we connected to our supply chain? What is our go to market stance?
We spent some time talking about how unique we are versus our competition - and what sets us apart:
- Communication and marketing (social media, demos, tradeshows etc.)?
- Ability to apply new consumer/market insights?
- Optimization of push/pull spending?
From a "renovation and innovation" perspective Bob encouraged us to take a moment and reflect on what makes us unique... how might we enhance our growth?
- Are the best new products ones we are already selling?
- Is there new consumer and market insight information available?
- Is there competitive patterning happening? What kind is it?
- Do you have a firm process in place, commercialization strategy, launch plans?
- Have you completed a global scan?
- Encourage success and keep the momentum going - implement a quarterly renovation/innovation process
Where are some opportunities to start building strategies?
Supply Chain (optimal demand planning, production, scheduling, SKU management - analytical side of go-to-market- total system costs, etc.)
Go To Market (sales force and customer interaction, pricing and pricing expertise, shopper knowledge, flawless customer service, accurate transactions, right product - right size - right channel, etc.)
Insights (consumer beliefs, mega and competitive trends, who are we selling to - consumer at large, channel, individual customer, business)
Human capital (people development and retention, organizational knowledge, active management of inside/outsourced capabilities, performance appraisals, etc.)
Finance (monthly top to bottom reviews, performance and control - monthly plan vs year to date - portfolio management, integrated business development opportunities, cost containment, cross-functional economies, monthly key performance indicator review, discipline and rigour, measure and manage, etc.)
IT (support business strategies, capitalizing on performance data that has been transferred to knowledge)
Bob concluded by stressing the importance of focusing on the ROI and growth through top and bottom lines.
1. Look at your core business process systems and enablers
2. Prioritize and focus, and
3. Take action!
Remember the old adage: "If it's going to be, it's up to me!"
President - Kisko Products, Woodbridge, ON
Kisko Products is the largest manufacturer of freeze pops in Canada and takes great pride in knowing that children are its number one consumers! Located in Woodbridge, Ontario, this dynamic family business that started in 1977, has successfully experienced a decade of growth year over year. Our speaker - Mark Josephs, President of Kisko, will be the first to tell you though that growth does not come easy. Through good leadership and guidance, they have developed a close knit, dedicated and creative team that pulls together to constantly innovate and improve. In keeping with our theme, Mark shared a timely quote from Benjamin Franklin:
"Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning." - Benjamin Franklin
Mark shared with us three areas of focus for building competitiveness for their company - new channel development, customer growth through acquisition and building on innovation. He also stressed the need to plan for increased capacity and encouraged those in attendance to look at ways you could improve efficiencies through capital, people, shift alterations and additions, etc. And he echoed Bob's message that planning is key for success. A few highlights from Mark's excellent presentation follows below:
1. New Channel Development
- Understanding who you are selling to is imperative
- Identify weaknesses and strengths of your company, of your competitors
- Target growth opportunities
- Analyze market segmentation - ie. look for opportunities to offer different pack sizes
- Consider acquisition opportunities
2. Customer Growth through Acquisition
- Fastest way to grow
- Not without significant risk
- Can help solidify your position in the market place
- Provides an opportunity for greater purchasing power when it comes to raw material, shipping product, etc.
- Could remove a competitor from the market place and allow for consolidation
- A definition that our Speaker likes: "a process of transforming an idea into a value added product the customer will pay for"
- Innovation can occur just in product differentiation - leading to category growth and increased profitability
- New distribution opportunities and methods may open up
- They try different products with brand recognition and look for easier package sizing
Mark concluded by reiterating the importance of innovation, and also of planning, following through and executing - and to not be afraid to ask for help along the way! He said that Calvin Coolidge said it best:
"All growth depends on activity. There is no development physically or intellectually without effort, and effort means work"
And three final words: Perserverness, persuasiveness, persistance
Director of Sales - Karma Candy, Hamilton, ON:
Greg Merlihan, Director of Sales for Karma Candy in Hamilton, Ontario eagerly embraced the opportunity to speak with respect to the topic on hand. Karma Candy is one of North America's largest contract manufacturers of confectionary products. They have five out of six chocolate technologies in place, are BRC, Kosher and organic certified and peanut free. The company started with a very limited customer base and a great deal of industry and manufacturing experience and have grown continually from there. They began by implementing a factory lead leadership team that looked at "providing services" versus products to survive. Productivity was essential and the mantra became "creativity before capital".
As our final speaker, Greg was able to tie together some other areas of business that help enable competitiveness. Like Bob and Mark, he also drew attention to the importance of innovation. He also outlined other areas of opportunity - where value can be added. Karma Candy has made significant investments in new equipment and technology which has subsequently saved not only qualitative line items such as time and other related production costs but has also resulted in an increase in morale and idea generation. One of the larger lessons that Greg imparted was to make sure that you reach out to others to help you grow your business - to academic institutions, to EMC for networking with others, to your peers and so forth. Some points from Greg's presentation follow below:
- The importance of achieving Food Certifications - opening the door to other markets around the world - (BRC/GFSI/Organic)
- New product development (SR&ED/new space and staff/additional training to enhance testing and shelf life)
- Development of infrastructure to provide turnkey service
- New produce and introduction examples (organic candy canes/new lollipop line - customers - want better for you - getting ahead/worked with product formulation and also on innovative mold system and speed to market
- Customers - more choice and gives company more flexibility in the marketplace
- Focus on core competencies - collaborate - best business by connecting with others and that innovation cycle goes beyond your business
- New product development part of sales platform
- Partner with academic partners, etc.
Investment in New Technology:
- Investment in technology provided them with an opportunity to be more competitive with low cost off shore competitors
- Advanced manufacturing - has a direct impact on quality - robotics investment, high speed lines/wrappers
- Begin with small investment projects
- Look at creativity before capital - "spend it like it's your own"
- Capital investment goals - focus investment on the core business items that provide productivity improvements and also benefits to customer.
Invest in Process and People
- High seniority/low turnover was reducing exposure to new ideas and best practices which could potentially hurt ability to grow
- Utilization of outside resources and funding programs - connecting with EMC/CRIFPT/Co-op Students (for project-based kinds of things)/Subsidy Programs
- Student projects - really boosted morale - their presentations were just about the facts and people were more inclined to share
- Take advantage of OMAF/RA Programs - training/HACCP/Export Development Programs/Food Safety
- Street Smart is another great program that brings people together - 30 top notch people (retailers) - and helps you learn about the market, what are the issues, what drives them
- Participation in EMC sessions - Safety/Food Safety
- More they learn the more they don't know
- Consumer - tech, people and process - collaborative approach
Greg provided us with an excellent presentation and together with Bob and Mark, left participants with a great deal to consider with respect to Business Growth and Competitiveness.
Roundtable Discussion and Networking:
In light of the awesome presentations provided by our Speakers the doors were opened if you will for discussion on a number of different topics relating to building business competitiveness and questions were fielded that touched on areas such as:
- Innovation - taking things beyond consumer level to other areas of the business (ie. invoices); seeking engagement of everyone in the organization
- Brand and private label issues and opportunities
- Recognition that regardless of product - we are all facing the same issues just on a different scale
- Failing is fine as long as you learn from the experience - and if you are going to fail, it's better to do it quickly
- Don't be afraid to reach out - to share ideas
- Align your growth and your team - planning and resources
- Students and co-ops - take the opportunity to learn from the young - be open to new thought
Supplementing our discussion on Business Growth, we were pleased to welcome Bernadeen McLeod from Mentor Works who spoke to our Members on a variety of funding opportunities that are available. We covered areas of IRAP grant funding, programs relating to capital expense, Yves Landry Foundation opportunities, export market access, funding programs for new hires, loan products, etc. For more information on this aspect of the presentation, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A final clip from our Presenters summed things up nicely while challenging us all to go "and create some awesomeness" today! Hope you enjoy a few words of wisdom from Kid President as much as we did: "A Pep Talk from Kid President to You"
Special, special thanks to our Host, ABB Inc. who so graciously welcomed everyone that day and provided us with a great tour after and a wonderful overview of their company! Also thanks to our Guest Speakers who so freely gave of their time to share their stories and experiences so that others may seek similar ways in which to grow their businesses - Bob Leonidas, Mark Joseph's and Greg Merlihan. And to Bernadeen McLeod for her overview on funding opportunities.
A great day of learning, and a great day of sharing!
All the best as always!
Sr. Community Development and Food and Beverage Manager
email@example.com - 519-372-6009