George Soleas, LCBO

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.

George Soleas, president and CEO, LCBO

The grocery retail market has undergone an unprecedented change during the pandemic. Can you describe how the crisis impacted LBCO and its presence in grocery stores?

 All areas of our business have undergone significant transformation in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our top priority throughout this time has been the health and safety of our employees and our customers. We have implemented many significant measures in our stores, our retail service centres, depots, and at head office to keep everyone safe. While nothing has been business as usual, we adapted quickly to ensure that we continue to service all our customers, including our valued Grocery customers, safely and effectively.

Although we are operating in a very different landscape than when the year began, overall, our presence in grocery stores has not been significantly impacted. We know grocers are relying on us to supply and support them. As the pandemic has evolved, we have continuously adjusted course and adapted to global supply chain disruptions and changing consumer buying patterns. Despite some natural challenges, our supply chain continues to operate efficiently and as a result, we can provide our grocery customers with regular service.

What have the challenges been re: the supply chain?

Without comparable experience, predicting the changes to customer purchasing patterns has been one challenge. Our inventory team and suppliers have continuously adapted to shifts in consumer demand that could not have been forecast. Larger format and value products have grown in popularity through COVID-19, which has had short-term impact on the availability of those and other products. We also had to manage a global supply chain where lead times and supply were at times disrupted due to the pandemic.

Thanks to the ongoing work of our internal teams and collaboration with our suppliers, and despite some fluctuations, our inventory levels are overall currently in good supply. We continue to accept orders and work with suppliers, our Grocery Operations department is coordinating closely with customers, and our supply chain is operating effectively.

Has this recent crisis changed in any way the relationship between LCBO and grocery retailers? In what way?

The LCBO is a multi-channel business. While we serve our grocery customers as a wholesaler, we are also a retailer and can appreciate the position they are in as they work to meet the needs of Ontarians in uncertain times and keep their frontline workers and shoppers safe.

Given the pace at which all businesses have had to evolve, the pandemic has led to even greater communication and collaboration between our Grocery Operations team and our wholesale customers. We are in constant contact and provide transparent updates on our supply chain and delivery timelines. This communication and collaboration are key to our mutual success and the close cooperation between the LCBO and our grocery customers has only strengthened that relationship as we navigate the pandemic together.

What are your business takeaways from this experience?

While this is not a scenario we would ever wish for, it has brought out so many examples of what we can accomplish by working together and by staying driven by solutions over challenges. If I had to distill a few key takeaways so far, I would say there are three that are essential in my mind.

Flexibility and agility are paramount to success during the pandemic. It has been remarkable to witness the pace at which our teams are making and implementing important business decisions to ensure business continuity and continued safe and efficient shopping experiences for all of our customers.

The second key lesson is the importance of open communication. We have been in constant communication with all our stakeholders – employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers – leveraging all the channels available to us. It’s also been important to me that, as the leader of the organization, that I’m sharing news directly.

Finally, recognize your teams and their work. Our employees are the heart of our business and their well-being is priority number one. Any decisions are made with their health and safety top-of-mind.

Is there anything you would like to add about managing through a crisis?

While we are all starting to feel optimistic about the better days ahead, I cannot stress enough how important it is to acknowledge that while we are running a business in a pandemic, we are also dealing with this pandemic as humans. The more that we can keep this in mind and lead with empathy and compassion, the better situated we are to navigate this difficult time together.

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