CANADIAN FOOD INDUSTRY TO CONVENE NEXT WEEK

TORONTO -- Members of the Canadian food industry will have the opportunity next week to contemplate food safety, organic foods, the economy and other issues when the second annual exposition of Grocery Innovations Canada convenes here.The show is scheduled to begin Sunday and run through next Tuesday.GIC held its first show last year when Canada's major corporate and government food organizations

TORONTO -- Members of the Canadian food industry will have the opportunity next week to contemplate food safety, organic foods, the economy and other issues when the second annual exposition of Grocery Innovations Canada convenes here.

The show is scheduled to begin Sunday and run through next Tuesday.

GIC held its first show last year when Canada's major corporate and government food organizations joined forces to sponsor the event. Those groups included the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers, the Canadian Council of Grocery Distributors, the Association of Sales & Marketing Cos. (formerly the Canadian Food Brokers Association) and the Food and Consumer Products Manufacturers of Canada, with support from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Steve Vanderleest, chairman of CCGD and president of Overwaitea Food Group, Langley, British Columbia, said having a single national show for the entire Canadian food industry provides an efficient way to do business, "which is important in a country as vast as ours. And there are spinoff benefits because many trade associations are scheduling their meetings at the same time as GIC."

GIC offers a way "to make sure the Canadian food business is world class," he said, "and having a central food show with all the key players in Canada present provides a great opportunity for us to see what's out there and a chance for us to raise our store standards as high as possible."

According to Anthony Longo, chairman of CFIG and president and chief executive officer of Long Brothers Fruit Markets, Mississauga, Ontario, there's a lot of interest in attending the GIC show. "Last year's show was a tremendous success, with a record number of exhibits, and this year's show is sold out," he said.

Vanderleest said the North American Free Trade Agreement is removing barriers to trade and competition between the United States and Canada, with long-term implications that are still developing.

"On the manufacturer side," he said, "we're seeing more focus on where to place plants to minimize handling costs, which is resulting in more north-south manufacturing and logistics work than ever before.

"And on the retail side, you're seeing rules change that make it obvious we're all competing in one North American market rather than a Canadian and a U.S. market, and that means we must be good enough to compete on a North American basis, if not worldwide. That means we can't compete solely on Canadian standards, but we must improve the way we operate.

"Of course, it works both ways, and there are advantages for retailers on both sides of the border. But disappearing borders can mean more competitors moving from one country into the other, and if one North American market exists, then we must be prepared for competition to move both ways."

Food safety will be one of the major topics at the GIC show, with an interactive pavilion on the exhibit floor devoted to food safety and a general session presentation scheduled for Oct. 23 by Dr. Doug Powell, a professor at the University of Guelph.

Food safety has become a big issue in Canada over the past few years, Longo said. "As awareness of genetically modified organisms has entered the public's consciousness, it has stirred up a lot of discussion on food safety and how products are labeled," he explained, "so we felt it was prudent to talk to retailers about training their personnel to handle product properly."

According to Vanderleest, Canada's trade associations have been working closely with Food Marketing Institute and Food Distributors International in the United States on issues relating to food safety, including bioengineering, "which is high on consumers' minds," he said.

Reactions among Canadians and Americans are similar, he added, with West Coast consumers in both countries more aware and more active in questioning biotechnology, and with all consumers demanding more information from their retailers.

Another focus area at the show will be natural and organic foods, which will be featured in their own pavilion this year after being part of a Whole Health exhibit a year ago, Longo said.

"In Canada you're seeing more chains separate natural and organic products into a store-within-the-store, while others are testing organic produce within the regular section," he explained. "There's definitely a rising demand for these kinds of product as people become more aware about health issues and what they eat."

Another new exhibit at this year's GIC show will feature garden centers. "Gardening is one of the fastest-growing leisure activities in Canada, and it makes a great addition to a supermarket," Longo said.

Besides the presentation on food safety, other convention speakers will include the following:

Bill McEwan, president and chief executive officer of Sobeys, Stellarton, Nova Scotia, on the challenges and opportunities in the Canadian grocery industry.

Kerry Clarke, president, global market development and business operations, for Procter & Gamble, on how Canada's food-distribution sector stacks up against the rest of the world.

Stephen Lewis, the former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations, talking about the food industry and its role in the global economy.

J'Amy Owens, a consultant, speaking about brand marketing.

Brian Tobin, Canada's minister of industry, talking about the importance of the grocery industry to the Canadian economy.

Phil Lempert, a consultant, talking about retailing in the 21st century.

Dr. Lauren Woodhouse, a motivational speaker, talking about using creativity in business.