This month, Food South Australia turns 10 but, in a way, we’re also already past our 21st birthday too. Still the only industry association of its type in Australia, Food SA was officially created in 2010 when two longstanding and respected organisations – Food Adelaide and Flavour SA – merged.
By Food South Australia CEO Catherine Sayer.
This far-sighted decision built on the foundations of Food Adelaide’s establishment as the state’s first industry-government collaboration in the 1990s and, with the establishment of Food South Australia, created a single base of expertise, an industry-led association model and, importantly, a focal point for access and advocacy for the food and beverage industry in South Australia.
As the founding CEO, my first priority back in 2010 was to establish and build this new organisation. Luckily for me, the establishment of Food SA was strongly supported widely across the industry and by the government of the day, as we have been since. With this goodwill, and our shared vision for an industry that is a lynchpin in the South Australian economy, we were off to a running start. Food SA has a team based in Adelaide and in-market support through our offices in China and Japan.
Everything we do needs to be industry led. We are, first and foremost, a membership-based organisation and because our membership also includes industry service providers, our membership is effectively a cluster for innovation and collaboration. Whilst we are here to support our members, we are inclusive, and offer many programs to the whole industry, supported by our ongoing industry-government partnership for the development and delivery of programs focused on industry-wide growth.
Industry and government have different ways of communication and doing things. Much of the time, I feel one of my key roles is a ‘translator’ – putting industry’s needs and concerns into ‘government speak’ to facilitate better understanding and vice versa. Being the ‘go to’ trusted source is a very special position to hold.
The most rewarding aspect of this role and of Food SA is being able to help businesses. This could be by making an introduction to someone who can provide expert support in a particular aspect of their business, helping them navigate their way through a problem, or by facilitating or providing a solution to a challenge that has the power to transform the business.
Looking back now, I can see two characteristics of Food SA that have been integral to the success we have had helping food and beverage businesses realise their ambitions for growth in the last decade.
One is our independence, which has enabled us to build a level of trust with our members and stakeholders across the industry. Trust, confidentiality, and clear communication have always been, and will always be, vitally important to enable us to provide effective help and industry leadership.
The other unique characteristic of Food SA as an organisation is our enduring partnership with the government of South Australia. This partnership is what supports us to design and facilitate industry-wide growth programs based on evidence of industry demand.
Our overarching approach to these programs is that business priorities can, do, and sometimes should change, and that the help provided must be relevant to the priorities of the business at the time. We have worked hard with stakeholders at all levels of government over the years to raise awareness of the practicalities of effective industry support.
Our remit began to expand when we began hosting and managing the South Australian Premier’s Food and Beverage Industry Awards in 2012, overseeing the steady growth of this program recognising excellence and innovation in the sector. Another milestone has been our success last year in obtaining a grant through the Australian government, supported by the South Australian government, to deliver the South Australia Food and Beverage Export Hub, a phased program designed to enable businesses at all stages of export development to improve their skills and grow sales. Our home state activities also continue to expand, as we now also manage the I Choose SA program for the food and beverage sector in South Australia on behalf of the Department for Trade and Investment.
Every day brings us different questions to answer and problems to solve. I know that will continue, because if Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we must all be flexible and ready to respond to whatever comes our way and be here to support our industry at all times and stand side by side with our industry to help them through such turbulent times. That’s the new normal in a nutshell. It’s also what inspires the Food SA team every day.
About Catherine Sayer
Catherine has led Food South Australia since it was established in 2010, passionately guiding the development of the industry’s peak body with a focus on industry growth and advocacy. She also is a member of and chairs a number of boards.
About Food South Australia
Food South Australia is the state’s peak body for the food and beverage industry, with a mission to support and sustain the industry in the state by helping businesses of all sizes to grow their markets, capability, and industry connections. Food South Australia is independent, industry led, and membership based.