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In a league of their own

Seven up-and-coming stars in the grocery business recognized with Generation Next Award

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From CPG and retail managers to startup CEOs, this year’s Generation Next winners— all of whom are under 40—are helping shape the future of Canada’s grocery industry. Chosen for their leadership, innovative work and commitment to the industry, we can’t wait to see what’s next for these seven rising stars of the grocery world.

Dr. Sara Celik
National Spokesperson
Renew Life Canada

A naturopathic doctor, Sara Celik worked in clinical practice for more than 10 years before joining Renew Life Canada in January 2016. As national spokesperson for the digestive health brand, Celik is focused on educating consumers, retailers and healthcare professionals about the importance of gut health and probiotics, which is a dynamic growth category.

“A big part of what I do is not just increasing awareness of Renew Life products, but helping the health and wellness category to grow,” she says. “I want as many Canadians as possible to have access to health and wellness products and education, and by working with retailers, we’re making these more accessible to consumers.” Last year, for example, Celik went on a “cleansing tour,” giving talks on detoxfication at various grocery and health food stores.

Celik has also spoken at numerous conferences and is a media source for magazines, radio stations and television networks. This past September, Celik spoke at a grocery retailer’s pharmacist conference, which she considers a huge accomplishment. “I can see the two worlds of conventional medicine and naturopathic medicine coming together,” says Celik. “We’re seeing more of an integrated approach to helping Canadians lead healthier lives.”

Ryan Fowler
Senior brand manager
Conagra Brands

What motivates Ryan Fowler is “the constant challenge of moving faster and going bigger, all to drive to growth.” As senior brand manager at Conagra, Fowler catapulted the VH brand from flat to double-digit growth with the launch of a national campaign, “Another Clean Plate Victory.” The humorous campaign— now in its second year—positioned the brand as a good option to ensure dinnertime doesn’t turn into battle time with kids.

Fowler was also instrumental in the December 2017 launch of Hunt’s Heirloom tomatoes, which was commercialized from concept to production in just four months. “I made it a personal challenge to see how fast can we launch this, and Heirloom was one of the fastest launches to market that Conagra has ever done,” says Fowler. “Now that’s our benchmark and that’s what we need to surpass next time.”

Fowler also oversees Healthy Choice frozen meals and novelties, Marie Callender’s frozen meals, Pogo Corn Dogs, Frontera sauces and salsa, and Aylmer tomatoes. While he drives an ambitious agenda with his team, Fowler is sensitive to the fact that you can’t do it all. “If someone on my team has too many projects on their plate, I say, ‘Let’s focus on the two or three biggest things that are truly going to move the needle.’”

Josh Domingues
Founder & CEO
Flashfood

Food waste is a growing problem for grocery retailers, but Josh Domingues has an app for that. In 2016, the former Bay Street worker left the world of consulting and banking to found Flashfood, a mobile platform connecting surplus food at grocery stores directly to consumers.

“My sister was a chef and she gave me a call after a catering event and said, ‘I just threw out $4,000 worth of food,’” recalls Domingues. “Then I learned about the environmental impact of food waste and how much food was getting thrown out at grocery stores.” That led him to create Flashfood, which allows customers to save money, helps retailers reduce shrinkage, and helps the environment.

App users are notified when partner retailers near them are having a Flashfood sale. Markdowns are typically between 30% and 50%, and nothing gets sold prior to its best-before date. Shoppers order and pay through their phones and pick up their items at the store. The service is currently offered at two Longo’s locations in Toronto, one in Brampton, Ont., as well as three Farm Boy stores in London, Ont. The company is set to launch a pilot in Vancouver and hopes to be across Canada in 2018.

Sarah Grant
Director of partnerships
Localize

Sarah Grant is dedicated to working with organizations with passion and purpose, and she’s bringing her “do-good” work to the grocery world.

Grant spent nine years at Engineers Without Borders Canada, where she was responsible for the development of agriculture policy and programs in the developing world. In 2013, Grant joined Localize as operations manager for Eastern Canada and was promoted to director of partnerships in October 2016.

Localize uses data from food producers, manufacturers, certifiers and grocery retailers to provide on-shelf labelling and online information that identifies where food has come from and how it was produced. Localize also highlights attributes such as GMO-free, organic and sustainable.

“At the heart of Localize is access to information and transparency to help guide consumers and inform their decisions,” says Grant. “That is something that I am personally passionate about and want to see more of.”

In her role, Grant leads the strategic partnership development with food certification partners across North America. She has built partnerships with organizations such as Ocean-Wise, Marine Stewardship Council, Certified Vegan, and OU Kosher Certification, and also with retailers such as The Big Carrot in Toronto.

Aaron Harowitz
Co-founder and CEO
Brutus Beverages Inc.

Aaron Harowitz put himself through university by slinging cocktails at Vancouver bars and restaurants. After spending his early career as a designer, he’s now shaking up the Caesar category at the grocery store.

Inspired by the “craft” movement, Harowitz and his longtime friend, Zack Silverman, had the idea to create a Caesar mix using all-natural ingredients. “We love Caesars, our national and most widely-consumed cocktail, and realized there wasn’t a Canadian-made, natural, premium Caesar mix on the market—so we decided to make one,” says Harowitz.

In 2013, the partners launched Walter Craft Caesar Mix, now a national brand with shelf presence at 2,500 grocery stores across Canada including Loblaws, Sobeys, Metro, Overwaitea and Whole Foods Market locations. The mix, which has won 17 medals at international spirits competitions, is also served up at about 500 bars and restaurants.

This year, the company launched Walter Craft Caesar Rim, which also uses premium, all-natural ingredients. “We are really focused on staying true to our core tenets of craft, quality and all natural, while continuing to innovate and expand our product lineup,” says Harowitz.

Mo Hamoud
Fresh specialist, store operations
Food Basics

Mo Hamoud joined Metro’s Food Basics in 2002 as a produce clerk. Since then, he’s worked his way up the ranks, with positions including produce manager, assistant manager and store manager. As fresh specialist, store operations for the past eight years, Hamoud ensures each of the 11 Greater Toronto Area stores he oversees is offering the freshest possible meat and produce.

Hamoud also plays an instrumental role in the discount banner’s training and development program. Last year, Hamoud took the lead role in creating Food Basics’ first training videos, which have significantly helped improve employees’ knowledge and identification of produce items.

On top of that, Hamoud created a new-and-improved interactive training reference manual for new hires in the produce department. By educating staff and encouraging them to promote local food, he helped Food Basics win a “Vision Award” at the 2014, 2015 and 2016 Foodland Ontario Retailer Awards, which recognize retailers’ commitment to local foods.

Regarded as a great teacher, Hamoud says he encourages independent learning. “I allow my team to figure things out on their own, and then I follow up with coaching and guidance,” he says. “If any of my team members have any questions or concerns—no matter how big or small—I encourage them to reach out to me.”

Jacky Ho
Store manager
Price Smart Foods, Overwaitea Food Group

Jacky Ho got his start in the grocery business at age 16, working as a Christmas tree clerk at a Save-On-Foods in Surrey, B.C. He went on to take a retail management course through the Overwaitea Food Group, and became an operations manager in 2006. Ho was then promoted to store manager and is now helming his fourth store: PriceSmart Foods in Richmond, B.C.

The Richmond store embodies the idea of “East meets West”—incorporating an ethnic and mainstream supermarket under one roof—and as manager, Ho works to meet the needs of the culturally diverse clientele. For example, Ho spearheaded the 2016 Korean Food Festival, working with a sponsor and the Korean Trade Centre to set up in-store activities and performances. He also builds relationships with overseas suppliers and has helped expand the store’s Asian product offering.

Ho motivates his 180 staff members by rewarding them for a job well done and working alongside them. “You have to work side by side with team members and that’s something I firmly believe in,” he says. “You can’t run a business by hanging out back in the office.”

On the charitable front, Ho’s store raises money for local charities and schools, as well as the BC Children’s Hospital. In 2016, the store also raised $5,000 for those affected by the Fort McMurray wild fire in Alberta.

This article appeared in the January 2018 issue of Canadian Grocer.

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