Empire makes executive changes in ongoing turnaround effort

Grocery company says shuffle creates a ‘truly national merchandising team’


Empire has made a series of leadership changes as part of its ongoing $500-million cost-cutting plan to turn around its Sobeys business by 2020.

The Stellarton, N.S.-based grocery company has promoted internally and also made new additions to its team. In a press release, it said these executive changes “create a truly national merchandising team, and build Empire’s e-commerce and discount leadership for the long-term.”

The following changes have been made, with each employee reporting to Michael Medline, president and CEO.

  • Mike Venton, who joined the company earlier this year as vice-president of strategic initiatives for discount, is now general manager, discount.
  • Lyne Castonguay moves from the executive vice-president, merchandising role to executive vice-president, store experience.  She will oversee store operations and distribution centres across Empire’s conventional (non-Quebec) grocery banners nationally.
  • Pierre St-Laurent has been appointed executive vice-president, merchandising and Quebec.
  • Luc L’Archeveque has been appointed general manager, Quebec.
  • Sarah Joyce has been hired as senior vice-president, e-commerce. She was most recently with HBC where she served as general manager of and

The company also announced Jason Potter (executive vice-president, operations) and Deirdre Horgan (senior vice-president, marketing) are leaving the company.

“It has been a year of solid progress in rewiring the fundamentals of our business–stabilizing margins, creating a lower-cost national structure, and setting clear strategies in areas such as e-commerce and discount,” said Medline. “We are now sharpening our leadership focus as we rally the team for stronger growth.”

READ: Sobeys’ parent not shying away from ‘tough decisions’

Introduced by Medline last year, the company’s transformation plan called Project Sunrise is intended to simplify the organizational structure, reduce costs and move past the struggles it endured following the acquisition and integration of Safeway in 2013.

Empire saw improvements in its most recent quarterly report, with earnings of $58.1 million, up from $30.5 million the year before. Medline was quick to remind analysts that it’s still early days and that the quarterly results only reflected slightly less than 5% of the grocer’s overall target, with benefits expected to ramp up over the next two years. “Again, we will make every tough decision we need to in order to win. We are changing the culture at Sobeys,” he said. “Our leaders are expected to deliver Sunrise results and strengthen our company to win in the future, no excuses.”

While improving operational efficiencies and driving out costs is a priority, Medline has said expanding e-commerce beyond Quebec to the rest of Canada is atop his to-do list. As competitors continue to invest and expand their click-and-collect and grocery delivery services, Empire chooses to focus on the long game rather than rush to market with “mediocre systems,” he said. The company is doing this through its recently announced partnership with British online supermarket Ocado that will see Sobeys roll out home delivery across the Greater Toronto Area in the spring of 2020.

Initially, the e-commerce effort will focus on the GTA — “a market we need to and will win,” said Medline — while keeping an eye on three or four other markets.

Headquartered in Stellarton, N.S., Empire and its affiliates and subsidiaries employ about 125,000 people.