Carmen Fortino, Metro

Since the pandemic began, the grocery industry has been at the forefront, rapidly adapting and implementing measures to ensure that Canadians continue to have access to safe food. “In Their Own Words”  brings the behind-the-scenes stories of retailers and suppliers to Grocery Business' readers.

Carmen Fortino, executive vice president, Ontario Division head and National Supply Chain, Metro Inc.

Crisis leadership initiatives

We have always been proud of the way we handle tough situations at Metro, but my first impression was the same as the entire province’s reaction; we were entering unprecedented territory. There is no playbook for a pandemic, hard work alone would not be the solution. While it was an uncertain time, I knew our team at Metro was the right team. Immediately we turned our focus to ensure the safety of our employees as well as our customers.

In the beginning, as customers began stocking up on essentials, ensuring a safe, reliable food supply and making sure customers and employees felt safe getting what they needed, was a key focus. We knew our customers would be looking to us for their immediate and long-term needs. Metro maintains rigorous safety standards with a best-in-class supply chain that would set us up to help all Ontarians during this time.  As we all know, it was a time of unprecedented unrest for everyone, including myself, but the one thing that I  knew I could count on was that Metro’s values have always been to support the communities in which we serve, and we would continue to do just that.   

We quickly mobilized a dedicated team, whose sole focus was to provide guidance and leadership through the unchartered territory we were navigating. This team became the policy leaders to the business with regards to anything regarding the pandemic. We listened to our frontline workers along with customers and used that invaluable information to guide our decisions; we wanted to act, not react. The team was charged with keeping employees and customers safe, ensuring all information coming from Public Health was deployed and implemented across the province and that we were communicating effectively and timely across the network. 

Leadership is about transparency and a crisis heightens that need. Our ability to effectively communicate would be the key to our success through this time. It was important that the entire company was in lock step. We held daily meetings from store level to supply chain, from procurement to leadership, and often many times a day, as the situation was changing rapidly. It was important that our colleagues knew the processes that were in place, the changes we were making as well as the right place to ask questions and get answers quickly.  

I will say with pride that leadership was seen at all levels. We came together as one team to ensure that we met the needs of our customers, our employees and all of Ontario.  Our entire team rose to the occasion on a daily basis to ensure that Ontarians felt safe and could get their weekly groceries in the safest possible way.

Impact on the supply chain

Thinking back to the middle of March when customers were stock piling various essentials, it was apparent that our supply chain was going to be impacted. Initially, it was difficult to predict customers buying habits as they were buying out of fear. They have continued to evolve week over week, putting more pressure on our supply chain. Earlier, I spoke about the fact that communication would be key to our success and that is no different with regards to supply. 

We have long standing relationships with our suppliers and are in constant communication to ensure our customers have access to the products they need. Relationships with our suppliers became even more important to ensure product availability. Internally our supply chain teams, as well as our distribution and transportation teams, did a remarkable job of keeping the product flow going to our stores.  I am extremely proud of the team for their agility as Metro continues to focus on the customers’ needs.    

One other element that stood out was our local suppliers and how they stepped up to the plate. Since many supply chains cross borders, our local suppliers jumped right in and have been extremely engaged in helping us ensure our customers have access to what they want. We have always supported our communities, which includes locally made, grown and raised products, and in turn they supported us when we needed them most. Metro will continue to grow these vital relationships to ensure that “local” can be enjoyed anywhere.

I am again, extremely proud that our customers have been able to purchase the products they need because the team continues to put the customer at the forefront of all we do. Our colleagues at our distribution centres, our transportation teams along with our internal supply chain teams, have understood the critical role demanded of them. They were not only agile, but laser-focused on one goal, and that was the customer. 

Your business takeaways from this experience

Each day, we review learnings from the day before, and begin preparations for how we change tomorrow. The learning has been exponential. Even in the most unexpected circumstances, getting the basics right matters to the customer experience. It became very evident that in these difficult times especially, great service, empathy and understanding, as well as a simple smile, can go a long way to making the shopping experience ‘normal.’ 

We recognized very early on that Metro and Food Basics customers would be trusting us to not only to implement safety measures, but to make the in-store experience as pleasant and easy as possible. With all the new safety measures, the uncertainty combined with wait times to enter the stores – it was up to our frontline store employees to continue to welcome our communities. They not only rose to the occasion, they surpassed all expectations. We maintained our customer first, community focus, even during this pandemic. 

The lesson that was relearned and enforced was that relationships matter. Especially those between our frontline employees and our customers.

If you had asked me prior to Covid-19 if I was proud to represent Metro, I would have said I couldn't be prouder. Yet somehow if you ask me the same question now, hands down I am even more proud of each and every colleague in the Metro network.

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