With heartfelt thanks
As I say farewell to a wonderful industry, there are many people I am grateful to have met
As this is my last contribution to Canadian Grocer after 43 years, I must thank the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of grocery industry people I have had the privilege of meeting over those years, many of whom contributed immensely to my knowledge and understanding of this wonderful, yet complicated industry. I could fill dozens of pages with all their names, but instead I will name just a few of the people who had a significant impact on me.
Early on, there was Paul Higgins Sr., president of Mother Parkers, who shared much with me as we dined in his pride and joy, the private railcar called The Pacific. Much later there was Eric Claus, president of Co-op Atlantic, who hosted me and some Canadian Grocer colleagues to an overnight stay in a cottage on a New Brunswick lake before taking me on a tour of Co-op Atlantic supermarkets. We stayed in touch when he was appointed president of A&P Canada, followed by his presidency of A&P North America. There was also Alex Campbell, the brilliant independent grocer who was president of Thrifty Foods, who became a friend, particularly after we spent a week together in Paris for the biennial SIAL exhibition.
A visit to SIAL also firmed up my friendship with Tommy and Gus Longo, founders of Longo Brothers Fruit Markets Inc., and with Eric Hellstrom, a true giant of a man in every sense, who was with Pillsbury. Eric even arranged to have Pillsbury in France throw a wonderful five-course dinner party for our entourage.
Besides Alex Campbell and the Longo brothers, I was able to befriend dozens of wonderful independent grocers including Norman Newman, president of Capital Stores, who once took me to his smallest store (I believe it was Oxford Street in Halifax) which was noted for having the highest sales per square foot in Canada. Canada’s discount giant Steve Stavro of Knob Hill Farms also became a friend. His stores were so large they were called food terminals; one even had a rail spur line running into it. He was always welcoming at his office, which was filled with treasures he had collected. Other independents I befriended were Jim Penner of Penner Foods in Steinbach, Man., who also became a member of the provincial legislature; Frank Lovsin of Freson Brothers in Alberta; Frank Coleman of Colemans Food Centre in Newfoundland; and Pierre Lessard of Metro Richelieu, who was always forthcoming in our interviews.
At the retail CEO level, there was Fred Kennedy, president of A&P Canada, a true gentleman; Richard Currie, the brilliant leader and visionary who was president of Loblaw Companies Ltd., who met me on several occasions at his office and later invited me to his anniversary/retirement party on the lawn at Spadina House; Tom Bolton and John Toma of Dominion Stores, who invited me for lunch at their head office and then to tour the 1920s fully mocked-up store in the company basement; Frank and David Sobey of Sobeys; and Al Graham, the highly respected CEO of The Oshawa Group—a great source of information and advice, who also proved the grocery industry was a great place for a career, having started in the meat department and worked his way up. (He’s one among many who have done something similar: Darrell Jones, president of Save-On-Foods, started as a bagger!)
Of course, I cannot forget the tremendous leadership provided by women in the industry. Irene Rosenfeld went from CEO of Kraft Foods to CEO of Mondelēz International; then there’s also Louise Wendling, the powerhouse behind Costco Canada; Christi Strauss of General Mills; and this year’s Golden Pencil winner Margaret Hudson, president of Burnbrae Farms.
Brokers, too, had a major influence on me, including William M. Dunne, Charlie Trimble, B.K. Sethi and Peter Singer. It’s unfortunate I don’t have the space to name the hundreds of others who I would love to thank, but one group that today deserves all of our thanks is the front-line store workers serving during the pandemic.
If you ever ask anyone leaving the food industry what they will miss the most, they will always say the people. And yes—I, too, will miss the people.