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In Their Own Words

A sit-down with some of the 2023 Grocery Business Hall of Fame inductees

 

Paul Bravi

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, FOOD BASICS

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First job in the business? I stumbled into the grocery business right after completing my university studies. Initially, I took a part-time job as a fish monger at Eaton’s gourmet shop in downtown Montreal. It was intended to be a temporary gig while I was looking for a more permanent career path. And I guess the rest is history. I ended up loving it so much that I never left. Throughout my career, I’ve gained hands-on experience in every facet of the industry, including high-end gourmet, conventional retail, and convenience stores. In 1999, I joined the Metro team, which opened doors for me to work in both Quebec and Ontario and, most recently, in discount at Food Basics.

What do you like best about the industry? What I find most appealing in this industry is the constant excitement it offers. It is fast paced, demanding daily decision-making and flexibility to adapt to meet customer expectations. However, that’s not the only thing I like. I became a part of the industry during a time when it was beginning to embrace the principles of category management. As someone who’s enthusiastic about data and analytics, I was captivated by the innovative processes being introduced. This kept me deeply engaged and wanting more. Ultimately, this business is primarily about people, and you have to love that aspect of the job.

What can the industry do better? I believe that diversity has historically been and, to some extent, still remains a challenge within the industry. It’s my firm belief that the industry should reflect the diverse communities it serves. We have made strides, particularly in increasing the representation of women in corporate roles. There has also been notable improvement at the store level, but there is still substantial room for growth in this regard. Looking ahead, I see the next significant stride being the alignment of our stores and management teams with the rich diversity of our country.

A memorable career moment? Reflecting on one’s career journey, it becomes evident that certain small choices or moments can have a profound impact. In my case, the acquisition of Loeb by Metro in 1999 turned out to be a fortuitous twist of fate. Although I may not have fully grasped its significance at the time, it ultimately proved to be the best thing that could have happened for me. My time at Metro has been thoroughly enjoyable and I have cherished every moment of it. I’ve had the honour and privilege to collaborate with, and continue collaborating with, some of the industry’s finest professionals.

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Tony Morello

SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, GROCERY BUSINESS, & BUSINESS CONSULTANT

First job in the business? I started my full-time career at A&P in September 1979 as a produce clerk. However, I also spent seven years prior to that at Loblaws as a part-time produce clerk while going to school.

What do you like best about the industry? The people. Many of those whom I had the pleasure to work with have become lifelong personal friends. I also enjoyed the challenges, the fast-paced environment, and adding creativity to drive results.

What can the industry do better? Retaining and promoting part-time youth to develop future leaders. There is a great pool of talent to work with. I also think the pool of talent in the stores should always be considered first for new office job openings, especially in merchandising roles. In my era, we were encouraged to build relationships for the betterment of the business, and great respect amongst peers and competitors evolved as a result.

A memorable career moment? Two really resonate. First, being part of the leadership group driving the expansion of the Food Basics banner. It was a ton of work, it was extremely challenging, and the success we enjoyed was a once in a lifetime experience. The other was leading the second generation of Aurora Importing & Distributing with the founder Nunzio Tumino by my side. Walking trade shows all over the world with that man was like walking the floor with the Pope. I was in my mid-50s when I joined Aurora, and was learning something new every day. It was an amazing experience.

Bill Ivany

PRESIDENT, ACOSTA CANADA

First job in the business? Retail sales rep for Wm. M. Dunne & Associates calling on A&P and Safeway Stores in Ontario…yes, Safeway Stores in Ontario!

What do you like best about the industry? For such a large industry, it is a small community of people, together, trying to provide good quality food and packaged goods products to Canadian consumers.

What can the industry do better? Better collaboration between suppliers and retailers…stop focusing so much on “the Buy” and put more focus on “the Sell” in an effort to provide good quality food and packaged goods to Canadian consumers.

A memorable career moment? Becoming president of a company for the first time; it was a turnaround opportunity for the business, and the satisfaction when the team and I accomplished what we set out to do was very rewarding.

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Chris Neal

CO-FOUNDER, NEAL BROTHERS BRANDS; CEO, JONLUCA NEAL

Peter Neal

CO-FOUNDER, NEAL BROTHERS BRANDS; CHIEF SALES & BRANDS, JONLUCA NEAL (RIGHT)

First job in the business? Making croutons.

What do you like best about the industry? I’ve always loved the friendliness and comradery of our industry and I just happen to love food!

What can the industry do better? That’s a tough one – we think our industry is in great shape, with no glaring issues.

A memorable career moment? We made our initial batch of croutons in 1988 and we successfully placed them in several stores on day one. Three business days later, we listened to a message on our answering machine. It was one of our retailers telling us that they’d sold out! It was one of the most exciting memories in my career.

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George Condon

RETAIL INDUSTRY JOURNALIST

What do you like best about the industry? The wonderful people who make it work so well. From supplier reps to store clerks and all the head office executives at both supplier and retailer levels, they are among the best people you can imagine, and I am pleased to call many of them friends.

What can the industry do better? The industry can do much better than it has in recent years, particularly in the cost to consumers for groceries. There is something wrong when the profits of retailers depend on fees charged to manufacturers. Do retailers really need bloated head offices to stay competitive, or is there some better way? Is it time for a reset of the way the industry does its business? We could use more competition from pure discount stores like Aldi and Lidl. Maybe even a Trader Joe’s could kick our industry into a rethink.

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Rod Sturtridge

PRESIDENT, CARLTON CARDS

First job in the business? Sales rep at Carlton Cards in Kingston, Ont. in 1983. At that time, grocery stores were just starting to add greeting cards to their assortments. How times have changed. The grocery channel has been of the largest points of distribution for decades now.

What do you like best about the industry? The people. I have met and worked with so many and grew up in this industry. They may have started in a warehouse or a store stocking shelves, and over the decades have worked their way through many critical jobs learning the business, which allowed for more thoughtful discussions.

What can the industry do better? Mentor the next generation of leaders to ensure they not only understand the numbers and the spreadsheets, but that they are engaged in the whole business. We need the next generation of leaders to want to make a life career out of this industry, and with it, create lifelong friendships.

A memorable career moment? It’s more of a time than a moment. It was during the pandemic. I was so impressed with how everyone managed to pivot and work together to keep the supply chains and retail outlets operating. It is a testament to the quality and dedication of the people employed in the grocery industry. It was a time of uncertainty and fear of the unknown, and everyone stepped up to the challenge.

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Dan Magliocco

PRESIDENT, DANONE CANADA

First job in the business? After finishing my BBA at York University (Schulich School of Business in Ont.), I began my career in marketing within the hair care industry at Alberto-Culver Canada.

What do you like best about the industry? The learning, ability to impact and the sense of belonging in being part of great companies. It is such a dynamic and fast-paced industry and I am always inspired to see how the industry has embraced young talent, building inclusive workplaces, and how it is sincerely committed to coming together to support the communities where we operate.

What can the industry do better? Canadians are increasingly concerned about their family’s health, wellbeing and overall cost of living, and every day, that is top of mind for our Danone teams and me. As an industry, we need to be bolder in developing offerings that help Canadians advance their health and wellbeing needs that are accessible to all. We need to do this well, in addition to advancing innovative solutions that have a meaningful impact on our planet and communities we serve.

A memorable career moment? One of my more memorable ones was our team’s visit to Northern communities in Alberta with the Breakfast Club of Canada. We went with our Breakfast Club of Canada partners to open new school programs and it ended up being about way more than preparing food for students – it was about hope and the power of nutrition in helping kids get the start they deserve for the future. It was definitely an example of seeing our mission in action.

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Rob Adams

SOBEYS GM OF DISCOUNT (RETIRED)

First job in the business? Management trainee for National Grocers. It was a great entry-level job that exposed me to the wholesale side of the business, with my main responsibilities being key account sales to our c-store customers.

What do you like best about the industry? The grocery store business is relatively simple and easy to copy; however, success was driven by the commitment and execution of the people at the office and store level. I saw many cases where businesses with equal chance of success had one rise to the top based on the efforts of a few great leaders.

What can the industry do better? Find more ways to create awareness and opportunities of solid career paths from the stores to the office and vice versa. Too often, the stores are seen as a revolving door for labour, especially in the part-time ranks. I think store experience is critical to the tool chest for those aspiring to make a career at the head-office level.

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A memorable career moment? A couple stand out. At No Frills, when we opened our 100th store, we created the Dollar Ad (1.00), to promote and celebrate the banner achievement. It was a tremendous success and our customers looked forward to the promotion every year thereafter. In May of 2010, under a veil of secrecy, we were busy rebranding Price Chopper to FreshCo and we opened the first eight FreshCo stores in the Brampton and Mississauga markets. It was the beginning of a multi-year transformation that saw 57 FreshCo stores open in that first year.

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Boyd Stevens

PRESIDENT, CYBA STEVENS MANAGEMENT

First job in the business? Part-time job at Safeway in Winnipeg when I was 16. I had the opportunity to see both sides of the business. During my university years, I worked at Safeway, and in the summer, I worked as an intern for Kraft Foods. My dad has worked for P&G for 35 years and always extolled the virtues of the company. So while I had a great Safeway experience, because of my father, I joined P&G right out of university.

What do you like best about the industry? It’s fertile ground for creative young minds that like to problem solve. This industry is full of positive energy; people in it have been in it a long time. It’s a wonderful place to grow a career.

What can the industry do better? Sometimes, looking back is a way to look forward. We’ve lost a lot of ability to work together and collaborate. Collaboration between manufacturers and retailers needs to be at a higher level if the industry is going to continue to provide Canadians with economical and viable solutions.

A memorable career moment? Nothing pleases me more than when I see people I’ve mentored who have surpassed me and continue to grow in their careers. My premise was not just to sell products but to develop people and have a positive impact on someone’s career. I had great mentors and would like to be a great mentor to others and have a positive impact.

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Paul Higgins

CO-CEO, MOTHER PARKERS TEA & COFFEE

First job in the business? Age 14, sweeping floors at our green coffee storage in midtown Toronto. It taught me three lessons: being on time, the importance of a clean environment and the need to get a good education.

What do you like best about the industry? Definitely the people are what make the industry. Food and beverage people are passionate, friendly and deliver an important service to Canadians.

What can the industry do better? It is all about partnership and this has been the case since I started in the industry. Buyers and sellers need to embrace the concept of working as partners on the same team, rather than as competitors.

A memorable career moment? There are a lot of memories over the past 50 years, but a highlight was in 1998 when we embarked on building our first production facility in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a frightening decision, since Canadian companies had mostly failed in their attempt to compete in the U.S. It has proven to be a great decision and success.

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Michael Higgins

CO-CEO, MOTHER PARKERS TEA & COFFEE

First job in the business? At 15, I started working at our warehouse on Castlefield Road. I would work during the summer months until I started full-time in 1974. My job would change every summer and become more challenging. I reported to work at 8 a.m. every day. My dad made sure we didn’t have it easy. I learned a lot from my summer jobs, and it helped me mature into the business when I started in 1974.

What do you like best about the industry? Canada is a global leader in innovation in the grocery industry. Our selection is incredible. We have the best variety of fruit, meat, dairy, fish and vegetables, and the industry continues to upgrade grocery stores across the country. Dealing with the people at the many retail chains across Canada has been fun. Being in the business for close to 50 years, I’ve seen a lot of change in the industry, but in a good way.

What can the industry do better? Working with each other, not against each other. Partnerships help everyone prosper.

A memorable career moment? My brother Paul and I opened a brand-new tea and coffee plant in Fort Worth, Texas in 2000. We had 20 employees then, and now we have 180 people working in the plant. It’s been great fun to see our business grow in the U.S.

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Mary Dalimonte

GIANT TIGER, ICCO CANADA INDUSTRY BOARD DIRECTOR, CONSULTANT

First job in the business? Part-time cashier at a Loblaws store at Jane and Wilson streets when I was 17 years old.

What do you like best about the industry? I love walking through the stores. Doesn’t matter what part of my career or position I was in, I always loved to walk through stores because this is where all of the planning and ideas for stores came to life. I loved to talk to employees and customers, which helped us make assessments of what was working or not working.

What can the industry do better? I’ve been vocal about this in the past and will say it again: we have to make this industry a path of career choice for young people. We have to educate people about the incredible career opportunities in this sector. Companies in this industry have come a long way in investing in people but we need to work harder at retaining people and ensuring that it’s a career path of choice for younger people.

A memorable career moment? The Golden Pencil award. I’ve had many achievements in my career and have been fortunate to be in a position to help support people and help to make positive changes, but at the end of the day, the Golden Pencil award was a humbling and amazing experience.

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Karen James

GROCERY BUSINESS INDUSTRY STEWARDSHIP RECIPIENT (LEFT)

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Les Mann

RETIRED GROCERY EXECUTIVE LEGENDS RECIPIENT

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Robert Bielak

PRESIDENT OF ST. HELEN’S MEAT PACKERS SUPPLIERS RECIPIENT (LEFT)

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Phil Donne

RETIRED CPG EXECUTIVE, STRATEGIC ADVISOR LEGENDS RECIPIENT

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Mike Motz

RETIRED GROCERY EXECUTIVE LEGENDS RECIPIENT

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