After serving long stretches at Sobeys and Longo’s, Michael Forgione stepped into the top job at United Grocers Inc. (UGI) this summer. No stranger to UGI, Forgione previously served on its board (representing Longo’s), even taking on the role of Chair. When Denis Gendron announced he was retiring at the end of June after nine years as president, Forgione took on the opportunity to lead the 48-year-old organization. Canadian Grocer recently had a chance to speak to Forgione; here are edited excerpts from that interview.
As you stepped into your new role, what was the best advice you received?
I received much advice. I’d say the advice that sticks with me has been tried, true and tested, which is: “immerse yourself in the business.” Really, get your insights from everyone and everywhere—our members, suppliers, industry experts, the UGI team and, of course, customers. Then balance out what you find with your experience and intuition to create a strategy to build programs that are creative and innovative. So that’s what I’m in the process of doing.
What’s it like leading an organization in these extraordinary times?
It’s an exciting time to lead. There are so many changes occurring in our industry—consumers, the environment, the economy—everything has been challenged in terms of how we traditionally have operated.
UGI has been around close to 50 years. What is its mission today?
UGI started out with a group of Western-based retailers and wholesalers pooling their buying efforts to better compete with the large grocery chains. It has evolved today to become a united national procurement organization and we represent a very diverse group of retailers with a combined share of 34% of the Canadian grocery industry with $39.5 billion in annual sales.
How does UGI stay relevant?
The key is to ensure the partnerships we built between UGI members and suppliers continue to deliver benefits. That’s why our supplier partners continue to stay with us. We’re all focused on generating benefits for all parties. It’s a win-win.
What are your priorities for UGI?
First and foremost is building on the success the team has created and ensuring we remain focused on what’s made UGI successful over the past 48 years; and making sure we’re agile and always adapting to changing consumer behaviours and making sure our members’ and suppliers’ needs are met. So really looking for and unearthing new opportunities for growth, leveraging best practices and continuing to innovate while always being focused on unlocking value for our partners is critically important.
What would you say is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now?
I’d say it’s adapting to this rapidly-changing environment and ensuring we’re able to meet the evolving needs of consumers. This is not a new challenge, but it has been accelerated by the pandemic, which has brought changes around e-commerce, the amount of time spent in-store, even newly created categories. We have gone through wave one and we had some supply chain bottlenecks; now the question is will there be a wave two? If so, how do we plan appropriately for that?
What do you like most about your job?
The people—the relationships I’m building in my new role and the rekindling of past relationships. I’ve been in the industry a long time. The people in this business are so passionate and focused on trying to do the right thing and being better and doing more; it’s such a great industry. Also, a thing that I really do enjoy is change. It’s something that keeps me getting up and being engaged in our business.
I would like to get the word out about our upcoming Supplier Awards Gala, which is going to be virtual this year. Our theme is “Partners in Growth” and it will take place on Oct. 29 with opportunities for attendees to network through video chats prior to the awards ceremony. I’m excited about the event and the platform.