FIA – Five Years On, What’s in Store For The Next Five Years?

In five short years, Food Industry Asia (FIA) has been successful in uniting food & beverage businesses in the region to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the industry and its consumers, including nutrition, regulatory harmonisation, and food safety. Executive Director, Bev Postma, discusses the key to FIA’s success and its vision for the future.

As an industry organisation, FIA has seen considerable growth in a short space of time from 6 to 40 Members, what has underpinned this growth?

It has been a remarkable journey with many contributing factors. Above all, three things stand out.

First, the commitment and dedication of our Member companies and their staff has been outstanding. Over the past five years, our Members have made a considerable investment in the organisation, contributing both people and time to the large number of FIA Committees and Expert Groups. This has enabled us to capture the collective knowledge of an impressive number of leading industry experts and allowed FIA to remain nimble and sharp while promoting an issues-driven agenda.

Second is our focus. It would have been easy to embrace a vast agenda in the first five years but we limited our activities to three non-competitive priorities where we feel we can add the most value for both companies and society at large: Nutrition and Health; Food Safety; and Harmonisation of Standards. Within each priority, the FIA Committees have identified clear objectives and projects that deliver the best possible outcomes for companies, governments and the communities they serve.

The third factor is partnership. From the very beginning, we acknowledged that few of our challenges in Asia can be solved without a proactive, collaborative and multi-sectoral effort. This empowered us to reach out to a broad range of stakeholders who share a common vision, namely to build a vibrant food & beverage industry for a healthy, prosperous Asia.

Together, we simply harness the expertise and knowledge from leading companies, national industry associations, governments and academics to support a pan-Asia dialogue that has the power to deliver lasting solutions.

What have been the most surprising challenges and opportunities you’ve encountered on your journey with FIA?

For such a diverse group of countries and governments in Asia, I am constantly amazed by how similar the challenges and opportunities that exist in each market are. Despite the huge differences in economic development, political systems, religions and diets, all nations face a very similar set of opportunities and barriers relating to nutrition, trade and food safety.

While FIA has already achieved milestones by breaking down silos and sharing best practice between countries and sectors, the solutions themselves must still be tailored to the unique needs of each country. For example, practical solutions for tackling food safety challenges in China compared with Indonesia are different by the nature of the complex supply chains and regulations in each market.

Over all, I am reassured by the willingness of most policy-makers to be part of a pan-Asia dialogue involving the private sector despite the occasional sensitivities that this can trigger. From our experience to date, I believe an increased reliance on public-private collaboration in Asia, and in particular capitalising on international resources and learnings, offers immense opportunity and benefits for Asia’s businesses and consumers.

How can FIA ensure it maintains its relevance and continue to add value to its members?

As FIA continues to grow, it will encounter all the challenges of a large, regional enterprise. We are fortunate to enjoy valuable mentorship from seasoned leaders from other industry associations around the world. These experts are on hand to provide practical advice on how FIA can stay focussed while continuing to deliver relevant outcomes for a growing mix of companies.

We are also lucky to have a dedicated team of highly-skilled leaders on the FIA Council and Committees. These experts are used to juggling the complexities and priorities of their own diverse businesses in Asia. Together, the Regional CEOs and function leads meet regularly to provide strategic guidance to the FIA Secretariat and reach consensus on the industry’s top priorities for the region.

Our challenge in the next few years will be to stay focused while strengthening FIA’s relevance and value to the network of national industry associations which play such a vital role in shaping and delivering the industry’s regional commitments.

Speaking of relevance, how is FIA focusing on growing its Membership base to ensure it is continually building strength as a united voice of the industry?

Growing the breadth and variety of our membership across the food value chain has always been a core goal for FIA and remains at the heart of our vision to be the trusted voice of the food & beverage industry in Asia.

Our capability is enhanced with each new Member as every company brings a new injection of knowledge and insight about a food sector or market. Early joiners such as Suntory, Indofood and Lotte have allowed us to develop our understanding and value proposition for other Asian food & beverage companies and we are very keen to invite other regional players to join our platform and use it to address their non-competitive issues through regional collaboration.

The formation of the ASEAN Food and Beverage Alliance (AFBA) was obviously an exciting milestone for FIA, what do you see as the longer-term role for AFBA in the ASEAN Economic Community?

AFBA owes its success to the vision and tenacity of a small group of local leaders in the national industry associations from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand. The idea to form an ‘alliance of associations’ was born from the need to speed up the removal of technical barriers to trade and use the expertise of the private sector to help regulators in ASEAN develop harmonisation standards.

AFBA has earned a strong reputation among ASEAN policy-makers as a trusted dialogue partner. However, the ASEAN regulators have made slow progress on their complex regional harmonisation priorities and AFBA must remain focussed on its core objective to help these diverse governments achieve their post-2015 goals in the AEC work plan. Once these technical goals are met, AFBA has the opportunity to embrace a much wider trade agenda on behalf of the food & beverage industry in ASEAN.

Public-private partnerships in any industry can attract different views. How well do you see this working in the food and beverage sector why do you think it works?

Public-private partnership means different things to different people. In the food & beverage sector, it is especially important to strike a high-level of trust and open-dialogue between the private sector and policy-makers, for the benefit and safety of all consumers. Unfortunately, when this breaks down, it can have serious consequences for all involved especially when conflict of interest is seen to be a barrier to constructive debate.

At FIA, we promote the value of multi-stakeholder dialogue between a broad range of public and private actors in everything we do. This does not always lead to a formal partnership but it does pave the way for enhanced trust and knowledge-sharing which are so vital for delivering lasting solutions to big societal issues such as food safety, obesity and under-nutrition.

What are the core values that you have instilled in FIA’s culture to ensure it maintains its credibility as a trusted partner for both the Public and Private sectors?

I believe FIA’s culture is underpinned by the core values that can be found in any one of FIA’s member companies. All of our Members, wherever they sit in the value chain share a set of values and principles that have enabled them to become such well-respected global brands.

FIA’s job is merely to harness these values and provide a credible, non-competitive platform for companies to harmonise and scale up their commitments and deliver a compelling set of policy solutions to tackle some of Asia’s most pressing challenges.

Our credibility as a non-profit partner rests on the integrity of our governance model, the transparency of our programmes and our conviction that all policy outputs should be informed by an evidence-based debate. I am also a believer in the 60:40 rule. Let’s focus on the 60 percent of things we can agree on rather than getting stuck behind the 40 percent of issues that yield a difference of opinion!

FIA issues regular e-bulletins with analysis on relevant food and beverage industry issues across the region. To subscribe to this service, please click here