“The pandemic has made us think and do things differently,” CPMA president Ron Lemaire told delegates at the organization’s convention and trade show in Montreal last week. In his address, Lemaire spoke of where the industry is now and where it’s headed. “And we have seen success. We’ve seen change. We’ve seen a range of opportunities.”
Despite “massive” supply disruptions over the past few years—thanks to COVID as well as environmental events in the form of wild fires, heat domes, floods etc.—the produce industry has learned to adapt, find solutions and “do our best to put food on the shelves for Canadians,” said Lemaire.
From regulatory change to geopolitical issues that are impacting access to inputs, new challenges are impacting our businesses, said the CPMA president. “We are already dealing with fertilizer costs, packaging costs—material costs [are] already skyrocketing.” In addition, we're seeing a decline in the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables, as Canadians grapple with rising food prices thanks to inflation, and this is something the industry must confront.
And in an increasingly tech-driven, connected industry, another challenge looms—that of cybersecurity. “This is our next greatest threat,” said Lemaire. “Cybersecurity is not a singular approach for our industry; it is an industry approach and the connectivity of businesses is key. We need to make sure that the weakest link is secured and that all the pieces of our sector come together. If you do not have a cybersecurity plan, get one!”
The health, particularly the mental health of the workforce is another matter to keep top of mind. Mental health is a growing concern in Canada and around the world, and the pandemic hasn't helped matters. So what are we doing to support our staff? Lemaire asked. “It’s harder and harder to find people. The people we have are resources, and recognizing mental health in the workplace is going to be key to ensure that as we move forward, they’re there with us.”
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And then there is the need to find ways to meet changing consumer needs, drive innovation and tackle important ESG issues around diversity, equity and inclusion and sustainability. Work is already underway, said Lemaire and collaborating to find solutions will bring about change. “The industry reunited is key to us driving forward.”
In fact, the theme of this year's show—which returned to an in-person event last week after two years of virtual events—was "Industry Reunited." Here are some highlights from the CPMA show floor: