Get to know the 2015 Golden Pencil winners

Three golden greats will be honoured at this year's ceremony

One built a juice empire, another helped fashion one of Canada’s most admired grocery retailers. The third pitched in to make our grocery industry among the most efficient in the world. This year’s Golden Pencil Award winners have each made lasting contributions to their companies, the food business and their communities. Read more about them here. And help the industry celebrate by attending the Golden Pencil Awards Nov. 23 in Toronto.

President and COO, Lassonde Industries

As a young goalie in Quebec, Jean Gattuso’s favourite netminder was Tony Esposito. As “Tony O” was for the Chicago Blackhawks, Gattuso has been a winner for Lassonde. When he joined, in 1987, Lassonde was a regional juicemaker in Quebec with $81 million in sales. Today, it’s across North America doing $1.1 billion.

Gattuso, 59, came to the food business early. His family’s Gattuso Corporation was an established brand in Quebec when he was growing up. After university, Gattuso landed a job at Standard Brands, then moved to Lassonde as marketing director. He became president in 1998.

Using his father’s advice to “stay close to your customers and you will always grow,” Gattuso helped take Lassonde into Ontario, home of many supermarket head offices. Among the brands acquired: Allen’s, Fairlee and Everfresh. In 2011, he led Lassonde to the U.S., buying Clement Pappas, then Apple & Eve.

Throughout his career, Gattuso has given back. In 1999, he helped found the Conseil de la transformation alimentaire du Quebec, an association that promotes the province’s food processing industry. He has also developed a lasting relationship with Tel-jeunes, a youth hotline that Lassonde has supported for 24 years through fundraising and other efforts. The Tel-jeunes phone number has appeared on Lassonde juice boxes since 1991.

“Food is a great business,” Gattuso says. “Not only because it’s about food, but because it’s a people business. That’s why I love it.”

Founder, Longo Brothers

Gus Longo wasn’t born into grocery, but he may as well have been. Longo was just seven in 1956 when his older brothers, Tommy and Joe, borrowed $10,000 to open a 1,500-sq.-ft. fruit market in Toronto. Young Gus jumped right in, sweeping floors, taking out the garbage and “helping out any way I could” before and after school, he says. By the time he was 16, Gus was a partner and managing Longo’s second store.

The three brothers would go on to build one of the most admired grocers in Canada. Today, Longo’s spans 29 stores in and around Toronto. Any foreign food executive visiting Canada hasn’t seen this country’s best supermarkets without stopping at a Longo’s.

Longo’s is equally known for its commitment to staff and community. New employees spend three to six weeks in training. And programs such as Longo’s College give staff an opportunity to learn and move up. Last year, Longo’s and its charitable foundation donated nearly $1.4 million to charities and events.

Joe and Tommy Longo have since passed away, but  as a founder Gus, 66, still tries to visit stores daily. “That’s my favourite part of the job: talking to the staff and serving the customers.” The store, he says, “is where the action is. That’s where the war is won.”

Founder and CEO, GS1 Canada

Shoppers buying their milk and eggs haven’t a clue of the vast supply chain behind every store. Behind even that is a technological wonder of barcodes, product databases, transaction standards and more to ensure CPGs and retailers can do business. As head of GS1 Canada, the standards group, Arthur Smith helps make it happen.

Central casting couldn’t have picked a better person for the job. Smith combines both retail and tech backgrounds. He graduated from university with a computer science degree, in 1972. Then, after working in consulting, he dove into retail at HBC (he created Zellers’ Club Z, an early online points program) and Biway.

In the 1990s, Canada’s grocery retailers and suppliers sensed a need to work together to take out inefficiencies from the supply chain. The result was Efficient Consumer Response. Smith became its secretariat, then founded the Electronic Commerce Council of Canada, the precursor to GS1 Canada, in 1997. As CEO, he helped create ECCnet, the grocery industry’s national product registry.

Smith has applied his tech expertise to amateur sports. Twenty years ago, with a few friends, he founded the BladeNet Amateur Hockey Council, a non-profit providing free schedules and scores online. It’s saved volunteer coaches countless hours and ensured hockey moms and dads get their kids to the right rink on time.

Smith is modest about his contributions toward a better grocery business. Retailers and suppliers came together to make it happen, he says. “It’s more a tribute to the industry’s leadership.”