It may come as a surprise to many to learn that the number one manufacturing employer in the GTA is not aerospace or the auto industry but food and beverage manufacturing. According to Food and Consumer Products of Canada (FCPC), close to 60,000 people work in this sector, in approximately 1,500 companies. The GTA has the second largest food sector in North America, second only to Los Angeles. FCPC has just announced the launch of the GTA Food and Beverage Cluster with the objective of making the industry even stronger.
A cluster is defined as a geographically close group of inter-connected companies and associated institutions in a particular sector. According to the just-launched website, gtafoodcluster.ca, the cluster approach is proven to increase business growth and productivity and new job creation. In the case of the GTA region, all the factors needed to support a globally competitive food and beverage cluster are in place—a strong urban core, diverse labour pool, connections to nearby agricultural lands and an existing base of innovation. There is also a safe and plentiful water supply, leading post-secondary educational institutions and partners, high quality inputs, a diverse and multi-cultural local customer base, as well as access to U.S. and global markets. That market has a potential value of a staggering $5.2 trillion, the FCPC says. At the present, the industry is worth $17 billion to the GTA in annual sales.
In its initial period, the Cluster will concentrate on its two key priorities: skills and labour; and innovation. The first will involve working to identify job opportunities within the food and beverage sector, and sharing this information with academic institutions and governments so that employers and employees will connect.
The Cluster also plans to link businesses with academic institutions to foster innovation through research and the testing of new products. A regional innovation centre, the Toronto Food Business Incubator, will be supported by the Cluster.
According to a study released today by Deloitte, innovation is a chronically weak link in the chain of Canadian business. The study found that only 13 per cent of Canadian companies could be described as “highly prepared” for the coming disruptive technologies that are sweeping the world. Advanced robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing and an increasingly interconnected world are some of the disruptive forces that the Deloitte report identifies. Companies and entire industries that fail to adapt will feel the “sting” of disruption, the report warns.
More positively, the president and CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade called the launch of the Cluster a “tremendous milestone” for the region’s economy. Toronto Mayor John Tory called the food and beverage manufacturing industry a “key driver” for the economy and said that he was committed to “ensuring that this sector grows” even stronger. The low cost of fuel and the lower Canadian dollar are both seen as aids to growth at this time.
Photo: Anne Sado, President, George Brown College, Norm Beal, President, Food and Beverage Ontario, Nancy Croitoru, President & CEO, Food & Consumer Products of Canada, Dan Magliocco, President, Mondelez Canada International, Janet De Silva, President & CEO, Toronto Region Board of Trade, Norm Kelly, Toronto City Councillor and Winnie Chiu and Chef John Higgins at a cooking demonstration at George Brown College’s Food and Innovation Research Studio.