Chicken farming and digital transformation are probably one of the last pairings you would expect to see in a business blog. But in Ontario, Canada at least, it appears that chicken farmers – and the larger ecosystem that supports them – are definitely going digital.
Why are they all crossing that road?
Apparently one reason is to help meet the changing demands of the region’s very diverse consumers.
Introducing the CFO
The Chicken Farmers of Ontario (CFO) is a not-for-profit organization that represents more than 1,100 family run farms – the largest group of commercial chicken farmers in Canada.
“We are a management board regulated by the governments of Ontario and Canada,” explains John Um, director of information technology for the organization. “And we help regulate the production and price of chicken within the province.”
That alone would be a pretty big job. But Um points out CFO works with an extensive value chain across the industry that includes chick hatcheries, chicken farms, corn and soybean growers, and chicken processors. Collectively, they ensure consumers enjoy a reliable supply of safe, healthy, high-quality, and Ontario-grown chicken.
These days, the collaboration among the various contributors is increasingly high-tech.
CFO also established an online portal called CFO Connects to improve collaboration across the entire value chain. The new system eliminates more than 50 paper forms that the farmers and other stakeholders once filled out by hand and then had to mail or fax back to CFO.
“Now every farmer is working on a digital platform and submitting the required forms using their computer, tablet, or mobile device,” Um says. The benefits include better traceability from hatchery to table and greater assurance of food quality for consumers.
Programs Target Unique Market Segments
“Our ultimate goal is to satisfy customer needs,” says Um. “And this transformation has been vital to helping diversify our products and promote new growth opportunities for our members.”
In fact, CFO manages several innovative programs that enable their chicken farmers to better target the evolving tastes and preferences of Ontario consumers.
The Specialty Breeds Chicken program supports the demand from the province’s growing ethno-cultural communities for chicken processed with ‘head and feet on.’ Within the Chinese culture, for example, serving the whole chicken symbolizes family unity and a good beginning to the New Year.
Ontario has the largest share of people born outside the country of any province in Canada, and Asia remains the country’s largest source of immigrants in recent years. In establishing the program, CFO conducted consumer focus groups in both Mandarin and English to develop a better understanding of the requirements of the multi-ethnic marketplace.
Even more recently, CFO kicked off the Artisanal Chicken program to address the skyrocketing interest in locally grown foods. (Research reveals that 61% of Canadians polled said purchasing local food is important and nearly half would pay up to 30% more to get it.) This program helps small, independent, farmers fill neighborhood food stores and seasonal markets with locally grown chicken which gives Ontario locavores more options in how and where they buy their food.
The Digital Future of Chicken Farming
Um doesn’t think consumer demand or the digital transformation in his industry will be slowing down anytime soon.
“The Chicken Farmers of Ontario dates back to 1965,” says Um, “but we will probably see more change in the next three years than in the past fifty.”
The stakes will be high for farmers and consumers alike. According CFO’s annual performance report, the Ontario chicken industry already grows 209 million chickens annually, contributes more than $3 billion to the economy, and supports around 20,000 full-time jobs.