Covid-19 has given us some memorable phrases. “We’re all in this together” is definitely one of them. And for all the over-use of that phrase in the last 10 months, it’s true.
By Food South Australia CEO Catherine Sayer.
Here in South Australia, the state government has recently launched the Food, Wine and Agribusiness Plan for Growth for our state, which sets a growth target of $23 billion by 2030, and calls for adaption and resilience in the face of the challenges of the pandemic – and whatever the next 10 years may bring.
This Growth Plan was developed, and is jointly owned, by Primary Producers SA, Food SA, the South Australian Wine Industry Association, and the South Australian government. This is vitally important because these sectors intersect naturally so it doesn’t make any sense to work in isolation. Equally, an industry-led approach is critical to achieving the objectives identified in the plan, so we are off to a good start.
I believe this shared ownership approach is also an integral element in what we do at Food SA – connecting manufacturers, producers, processors, industry service providers and all levels of government to jointly own key initiatives for industry growth within our state, and to ensure industry needs are well-understood. When this works well, it achieves so much for all.
While this plan is for South Australia, the key message holds true at a national level too. Covid may have temporarily closed borders but we all understand the mechanics of our sector mean many companies have customers, and sometimes operations, in more than one state. So, if we think outside the borders – and outside the square too – what are the defining features of effective industry collaboration?
We need clear communication; we need trust and we need transparency. We need it now more than ever before.
The disruption we’ve seen this year isn’t going away in the short term, which means businesses manufacturing food and beverage products should be thinking about potential changes to requirements for shelf life that might need new approaches to distribution logistics that could take longer or may not be as robust as previously traditional export pathways.
The pandemic has also highlighted the need for Australian food and beverage businesses to seek out transformational technologies and processes to drive the kind of product development and diversification that will appeal to new markets and new customers, to offset the risk of experiencing again what some businesses experienced in March when entire distribution channels temporarily evaporated overnight.
As a business and industry community, we all know there are some other enormous challenges ahead, such as identifying viable solutions to single-use plastics in food and beverage manufacturing and packaging. We know we need to engage with other parts of the supply chain, including recycling and waste management experts, to find innovative solutions that can be delivered here in Australia and still make financial sense for manufacturers, retailers, consumers – and the waste management businesses themselves.
Information, knowledge, and experience must be shared to jumpstart the process of meeting these challenges. Sharing hard-won expertise can feel like a risk to individual businesses, so there’s an implicit level of trust required, and a need for agreement on what is shared, how it’s shared and who shares it.
There are a lot of questions out there as this turbulent year comes to a close. Everyone has a stake in this game, from government agencies to manufacturers, retailers, and consumers and all the businesses and service providers to keep the industry producing. Imagine what we can achieve if we are really in it together.
Dr Seuss seems appropriate to slightly misquote as we near the festive season and take a moment to step back from 2020’s menu of (slightly unrelenting) challenges: “We’re off to great places. Today is our day. Our mountain is waiting, so let’s get on our way.”
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.