The Interview Issue – Annick Gazaille

IGA Gazaille’s Annick Gazaille is the true definition of an innovative, resourceful, passionate grocer. She grew up the daughter of a grocer, and worked alongside her father as a part-time cashier from the age of 10. Now out from her father’s shadow, she owns four IGA stores, all located within 30 minutes of one another in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Never one to settle, she’s an advocate for independent grocers in Quebec, having taken on the provincial government to get compensated for collecting empty bottles.

Q: You’ve been in the business some 20 years. What are some of the changes you’ve seen?

The greatest change has been with consumers–their tastes have changed, they’re much more informed and open to new flavours and foods. Stores, in turn, have had to adapt and offer these new experiences to keep on top of trends.

Q: Has being a woman in the industry been a help or hindrance?

While it’s still a male-dominated industry, it’s becoming less so. Being a woman has definitely been something that has worked to my advantage. I find women are more about negotiation than confrontation. Also, the grocery industry is the most multifaceted sector–from marketing to human resources to advertising to business. I do it all, so it’s well-suited to women’s natural multi-tasking skill set. Women are also highly adaptable to new situations so it’s great to see more women entering the industry now.

Q: What are the biggest differences you see between the grocery sectors in Quebec compared to the rest of Canada?

There are many more–some 65 per cent–independent affiliated grocers in Quebec; while for the rest of Canada it’s about 30 per cent. Here in Quebec, the IGA banner supports owners a lot with recipe ideas, marketing and merchandising tips, sampling programs with suppliers–so we don’t have to handle these time-consuming logistical aspects ourselves. There are also a lot of opportunities for training and education through IGA–from food safety to store sanitation.

Q: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date?

It’s when I bought my Magog store and was able to double my sales in a year. I’m also extremely proud of the relationships I’ve built within the communities where my stores are located. For example, this year we were able to raise $1 million to build a sports facility in the region. My other greatest accomplishment was when I was president of the Association des détaillants en alimentation du Québec. In this role, I was able to change laws that affected sales of liquor and store hours. I also helped better the relationship between suppliers and grocers.

Q: What’s the future of the independent grocer?

In Quebec, there’s a trend for the bigger chains to buy independents. Through Metro’s acquisitions, we lost a lot of independent banners; also with Loblaw and Provigo, which became a corporate entity. So it’s a little worrying for store owners like myself. But with the IGA banner, the corporate office still believes that independent owners make a difference, especially within a community.