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The Interview Issue – Galen Weston

As executive chairman of Loblaw Companies, Galen Weston has made healthy eating and sustainability initiatives a big priority for Canada’s largest grocer. Still, most Canadians know Weston as the star of President’s Choice commercials. His everyman demeanour on TV seems to have caught on with them. He was named Canada’s most gentlemanly man in a recent poll, alongside actor George Clooney.

Q: In sustainability, what are the next challenges, or opportunities, ahead?

There are a number of important issues we see ahead like availability of safe food, global population growth, climate change and the link between diet and health. We are on the forefront of many environmental issues, with measurable results from our waste reduction, energy conservation and efficiency programs. Some examples are: our plastic bag program, which has led to 2.5 billion fewer bags from our stores; piloting solar panels on store roofs; and our commitment to sell 100 per cent sustainable seafood products by the end of 2013. We’re making good progress, but there is a lot more to do.

Q: How is the growing interest in health affecting what grocers do?

Healthy eating is another long-term trend being driven by the consumer. As the largest retailer in Canada, with 14 million customers shopping with us weekly, we have an interest in what and how consumers eat. A big step forward recently was launching Guiding Stars, an easy navigation tool that helps Canadians make healthier choices. And, just like the innovative healthier food line we launched six years ago–Blue Menu, which features more than 400 products–and establishing partnerships with organizations like the Canadian Diabetes Association, we aim to be customer-centric and to lead by facilitating change that meets our customers’ needs.

Q: What are some of the food stores you admire in other countries?

The ones that come first to mind are Sainsbury, Waitrose, Wegmans and HEB, a Texas-based retailer. These are smart retailers who have delivered distinct propositions to their markets and a strong customer-centric experience. They are innovative in their approaches, from store presentations and marketing to control brand. They are food-centric, notably in fresh, and focus on growing consumer trends in healthier eating. HEB is very adept at these areas, and they are particularly successful in tailoring a store format and offering to their large Hispanic consumer base.

Q: What are you most proud of in terms of accomplishments at Loblaw?

We’ve had a full plate for the past five years but we are extremely pleased with what we have undertaken and accomplished during this time. In no particular order: our infrastructure renewal, specifically supply chain and IT… Next, Joe Fresh, an incredibly dynamic and strong brand that continues a long tradition of differentiated brand-building for the company. And the acquisition of T&T Supermarkets, which has enabled us to build leadership in new customer segments as well as leverage the entrepreneurial energy of independent operators within the Loblaw family. Finally, but not least, developing and committing to the most comprehensive and aggressive sustainable seafood sourcing policy in the industry.

Q: What impact are smartphones and apps having on your business?

About a year ago we introduced the President’s Choice Recipe Box app featuring close to 1,000 recipes, and it quickly became one of the most downloaded iPad apps. This experience gave us terrific first-hand evidence on how Canadian consumers leverage technology as it relates to eating and preparing food. Our Recipe Box app builds on other innovative solutions we offer on PC.ca–all to help consumers manage their busy lives and to give them access to the information they want. This area continues to be an exciting frontier for us.

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