Ones to watch

Generation Next: Introducing Canadian Grocer’s rising stars of the industry for 2019


They hail from different parts of the country and work in different roles at companies both big and small. They come from both the retail side of the industry and also consumer packaged goods. But what all of this year’s Generation Next winners have in common is that they’re young (all under age 40), they’re passionate about what they do and they’re making their mark on the Canadian grocery industry. These 12 rising stars certainly grabbed our attention and we can’t wait to see what they do next. Let’s meet our 2019 winners:

Jessica Armstong
Vice-president, e-commerce
Maple Leaf Foods

gennext_jessicaJessica Armstrong is blazing trails for CPG companies in the e-commerce space. She began her CPG career in 2009 as an account manager at Kimberly-Clark, and later started up the company’s e-commerce unit. In 2013, she joined Unilever to start up its e-commerce function. Armstrong held progressively senior roles for six years before moving to Maple Leaf Foods in January 2019 in the newly created position of vice-president, e-commerce—once again building an e-commerce unit from the ground up.

At Unilever, Armstrong launched an innovative augmented reality pilot for Knorr products with Walmart. She also implemented a chatbot on-demand delivery service in the Greater Toronto Area–a first in the CPG industry. Customers could order Ben & Jerry’s ice cream through Facebook and have it delivered to their doorsteps within 30 minutes.

While Armstrong is known for her passion and knowledge of the e-commerce space, she truly stands out for her leadership abilities. She has built up talent who continue to thrive and grow in their careers. “I aim to give my team a ton of freedom to explore and innovate, as well as the permission to take risks; because if they’re not testing and learning, we’re not growing,” she says.

Erin Bean
Store manager
Red River Co-op

gennext_erinErin Bean’s passion and support for local Manitoba products has led to some big wins for Red River Co-op. The store manager at a Winnipeg Red River Co-op location oversees the local program for seven stores in Manitoba, including four locations that were acquired in the past 18 months.

Bean is in charge of finding new local vendors, and sets up Dragons’ Den-type meetings with all the store managers, the food operations manager and vice-president to decide if the products could sell at Red River Co-op. If a product gets the green light, Bean sets up a demo schedule with all stores so customers can try it.

The local assortment has grown to more than 600 SKUs, including some products that are created by farmers and producers specifically for Red River Co-op. Thanks to Bean’s efforts, sales of local products reached $5 million in 2018. In 2016, 2017 and 2019, Red River Co-op received the “Favourite Local Retailer” award from Food and Beverage Manitoba.

“I come from a farming family, so it’s great to work with other farmers and producers and see them take their farms in a different direction and really grow their businesses,” says Bean.

Zade Cawley
Store manager

gennext_zadeAs a teenager, Zade Cawley worked at a Save-On-Foods to pay for a car and a ski pass. After graduating from university with a business degree, he decided to make his career in grocery. He held various operations roles before becoming store manager of Save-On-Foods in Ladysmith, B.C., at age 29. He was transferred to the White Rock, B.C. location in 2018.

As part of the Thompson Rivers University Leadership program, Cawley was selected to lead a team in developing a new merchandising program that would standardize information shared across departments and simplify the messaging. The program was a success and, ultimately, rolled out company-wide.

Another success was creating a daily “shrink huddle” at the Ladysmith store. Every morning, he would meet with department managers and discuss shrink from the day before, so they could analyze what happened and make adjustments. Shrink levels decreased, and the process is now used in multiple regions.

As a leader, Cawley treats his staff like family. “A lot of times, we see each other more than we see our families at home,” he says. “So it’s always nice to come to work to an environment that is caring and engaging.”

Eugene Chang
Senior customer category manager
Kraft Heinz Canada

gennext_eugeneAt Kraft Heinz, Eugene Chang is hailed as a “new generation sales leader,” adept at using technology and data to drive efficiency and uncover market trends.

In a previous role as national retail sales and CRM manager, Chang brought in innovative technologies to support the sales team. For example, he led a major project that enabled sales reps to identify real-time, algorithm-generated sales opportunities. In his current role, he implemented a turnaround plan and helped stabilize the struggling condiments category at a national retailer.

What motivates Chang in the workplace is continuous learning. “I love working in an environment that never stops me from developing as an individual—whether it’s technical skills, problem solving or leadership skills,” he says.

In 2018, Chang was chosen to represent Canada as a Kraft Heinz Meal Ambassador. Along with six other global ambassadors, he travelled to India to see the hunger-relief programs Kraft Heinz sponsors with Rise Against Hunger. Inspired by the trip, the ambassadors created the company’s first-ever global meal-packing event on World Food Day—and in 24 hours, employees packed an impressive 1.2 million meals.

Mark Condoluci
Category director produce/bulk merchandising
No Frills

gennext_markMark Condoluci believes healthy foods at reasonable prices should be available to all Canadians.

Since becoming No Frills’ category director for produce/bulk merchandising three years ago, Condoluci has made organic produce more accessible, more than doubling the assortment in stores. He also has a strong focus on local produce, launching new items, organizing local farmers markets at various stores, and engaging No Frills’ franchisees in the company-wide “From Your Farmers” campaign.

Recognizing the diversity of Canadians, he has also helped introduce new items to offer a wider variety of multicultural products.

“Our purpose is to feed everyone. I’ve really embodied this and it’s what inspires me,” says Condoluci. “We need to shape what future generations are eating and I think it starts in the produce department.”

It’s a department he knows well: Condoluci started as a produce clerk at his local No Frills at age 14. He rejoined the company after college and was promoted to produce manager at 21. He now leads a team ensuring that the best produce at the best price is offered consistently to consumers across 263 No Frills locations.

Jay Cummings
Director, bakery & deli
Freson Bros.

gennext_jayJay Cummings’ bakery beginnings go back to age 14, when he had a part-time job making doughnuts at a coffee shop. He later became an apprentice baker at Canada Safeway and held various positions during his 12-year-tenure. In 2015, Cummings joined Freson Bros., and says it’s been the highlight of his career so far.

Cummings has elevated Freson Bros.’ bakery, deli and restaurant departments to a new level of excellence. He introduced the lost art of sourdough and old world long-fermented breads. On the restaurant side, he introduced store-made fresh ricotta and mozzarella cheeses, a fresh salad bar and wood-stove fired sourdough.

“I would classify myself as a purist baker and I like working outside of the box,” says Cummings. “My philosophy is if you’re going to do something, you may as well do it to the best of your ability.”

Cummings established the Culinary Arts and Food Council Partnership between Freson Bros. and polytechnic university NAIT. He also developed a scholarship program for baker and deli managers at Freson Bros., so they can obtain their Red Seal designations.

Krystel De Conninck-Lord
Director, merchandising, grocery

gennext_krystelKrystel De Conninck-Lord worked at Metro as a student merchandising analyst, went on to get a law degree, and then decided to return to Metro. “I realized that the food industry was a real passion for me and I decided to follow my heart,” says De Conninck-Lord, whose father worked at Metro for 40 years.

Over the last eight years, De Conninck-Lord held management positions in various departments at Metro and Super C. In 2018, she became director of merchandising for the Metro banner, and now oversees a team of 12.

De Conninck-Lord started a new six-member business intelligence unit and developed a working plan to integrate artificial intelligence into merchandising processes. With the new unit, De Conninck-Lord continues to integrate AI into management processes, significantly contributing to efficiencies for the company.

As part of a strategic project for the Metro and Super C banners, she integrates customer data into the decision-making process in more optimal ways than in the past. “If we want to be best in class, we need to challenge our decisions and our processes,” she says. “It’s not possible to stay the same and win the market. We need to create innovation and that is my principal motivation.”

Chris Magnone
CEO & co-founder
Buddha Brands

gennext_chrisA decade ago, Chris Magnone and his fellow co-founders saw a void in the Canadian marketplace for sustainable, better-for-you products. They created Temple Lifestyle Brands, which imported healthy food and beverage products from around the globe.

Then in 2012, they saw a big opportunity in coconuts—a sustainable, healthy superfood— and created Buddha Brands. The portfolio includes Hungry Buddha coconut chips and clusters, Thirsty Buddha coconut water, and Healthy Buddha coconut vinegar and coconut nectar. The products are sold at major retailers across Canada and the United States, as well as online.

Buddha Brands continuously innovates in the healthy-foods space and is launching a new line of keto bars in the first quarter of 2020. “It’s turning out to be a massive milestone for us, in terms of continued expansion into new categories, cross-departmental collaboration and looking at innovation differently,” says Magnone.

The company supports 1% For The Planet and gives 1% of annual sales to environmental and social causes. Magnone also gives back to the local business community, serving as learning chair on the board of directors for the Montreal chapter of Entrepreneurs’ Organization and mentoring young entrepreneurs.

Tessa McArthur
Zone sales director
PepsiCo Foods Canada

gennext_tessaTessa McArthur is one of PepsiCo Foods Canada’s brightest sales leaders. When she joined the company 10 years ago, she quickly realized that field sales were the pulse of the organization. “I fell in love with working in stores and helping to grow our mutual businesses with our customers,” she says.

In 2018, when senior leadership decided to host the first national field sales conference in 20 years, Tessa was hand-selected to lead the conference committee. McArthur led a team of 10 to develop the framework for a three-day conference that allowed the company’s leaders to network and share best practices.

On the business front, one big accomplishment was developing and implementing new route designs in the Greater Toronto Area to help drive efficiencies and improve customer service. The project was considered so innovative that PepsiCo Foods is implementing the new system in parts of the United States.

In her current role, McArthur leads more than 250 associates in the company’s largest sales area. “As a leader, I inspire others to treat people the way they want to be treated, and support them by unleashing their potential,” she says.

Robert Paolozzi
Manager, direct to customer marketing (CRM)
Sobeys Inc.

gennext_robertThroughout high school and university, Robert Paolozzi worked part time in the produce department for a national grocer. Five years after graduating, he rejoined the grocery world when a loyalty marketing role came up at Sobeys in 2015. “It marked a move into loyalty marketing for a large Canadian grocer, which is something I had a real interest in,” he says.

He started as a loyalty communications co-ordinator and received multiple promotions, eventually becoming manager, direct to customer marketing in March 2019. In this role, Paolozzi is responsible for growing new subscribers to Sobeys customer databases, creating strategies for targeted lifecycle marketing and driving usage of personalized offers to drive incremental sales.

His two proudest accomplishments to date are spearheading the growth of Sobeys’ personalized digital coupon program, “My Offers,” and helping Sobeys transition from “batch and blast” e-mail communications into personalized customer lifecycle marketing engagements.

“CRM programs allow us to operate at the intersection of data, insights and customer engagements,” says Paolozzi. “I’m really passionate about using data and technologies to engage customers.”

Sheena Russell
Founder & CEO
Made With Local

gennext_sheenaSheena Russell had a “boring government job” when she founded Made with Local in 2012, selling homemade Real Food Bars with “no weird stuff” at a farmers market in Halifax.

In 2014, Russell quit her job to focus on Made With Local full time. In 2015, the company landed its first retail listing with Sobeys in Atlantic Canada. Today, Real Food Bars are sold at 750 grocery stores across Canada including Sobeys, Loblaws, Farm Boy, and more. This year, Made With Local became a Certified B Corp.

To produce the bars, Made With Local partners with three social enterprise bakeries in Nova Scotia. The organizations have supportive work and training programs for marginalized adults who have barriers to the mainstream workforce. More than 100 program participants make thousands of Real Food Bars by hand every day.

Russell says as the company grew, she thought about getting a big co-packer, but instead decided to “double down” on the social enterprise model. “Creating a new social-impact production model isn’t easy, but seeing how it uplifts our communities is so worth it,” she says. “We are building capabilities within these social enterprise organizations … and we can say to customers that every bar you buy makes a positive impact on Canadian communities.”

Stu Smith
Director, fresh programs
Georgia Main Food Group

gennext_stuA Red Seal chef, Stu Smith moved from the Vancouver restaurant world to the grocery industry in 2012, joining H.Y. Louie (now Georgia Main Food Group) as a fresh specialist. In 2017, Smith took on the newly created role of director, fresh programs. He oversees all the fresh departments for Fresh St. Market, as well as the fresh departments of 23 IGA stores in British Columbia.

With a true passion for food, Smith has differentiated both banners from the competition in many ways, including transitioning to an entirely AAA-Angus Western Canadian beef program and revitalizing the panini program.

A career highlight for Smith was supporting the fresh departments as Fresh St. Market expanded to four locations (soon to be six). He’s also proud of his involvement with the Vancouver Whitecaps major league soccer team, having created the Cookin’ With the Caps cookbook featuring original recipes that match each team player, as well as a series of cooking videos.

“I believe that if you work hard and you have passion, good things will follow,” says Smith. “I want to continue to grow and get better, both as a leader and as a human being. And hopefully that will lead me to even bigger and better things.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’December 2019/January 2020 issue.