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Transcript: Sobeys’ complicated relationship with food


KARL MOORE – This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, talking management for The Globe and Mail. Today, I am delighted to speak to Marc Poulin, who is the CEO of Empire [Co. Ltd.], the parent of Sobeys [Inc.], one of Canada's top retail supermarket chains.

Marc, we see organics have grown a lot in Europe and the U.S. Do you see that kind of growth of organics here in Canada?

MARC POULIN – Well organics is clearly an element that is growing. I mean there are a lot of consumers who are questioning what is on their plate and some find organics as a solution, but there are other elements that are also part of it – where the food is coming from is part of the solution and it doesn't have to be organic.

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This notion of the 100-mile diet for some consumers is very important and it's not about organics. How has the food been raised? So there are a number of preoccupations that customers can have around food and it is our mission to actually deliver on all of them. Organics, specifically, yes we will keep on developing this file of sourcing and part of it has to be how you propose it to customers – but a lot of it has to do also with how do you actually get production of organics food to rise to the occasion and that's work that is currently under way. It is an overall proposition and yes it's an important one, it's a trend, but there are other food trends that we have to be aware of.

KARL MOORE – You mention trends, Marc. How do you keep up with trends at Sobeys?

MARC POULIN – Well, as much as we would like to tell you that we know, we don't really know.

It's the customers who call the shots and our purpose is to always be a step ahead, to be there, and listen and try to extrapolate. You can't extrapolate too far away because then what you will end up with is that you might be out of touch with the actual … but always be a little bit ahead and nudge the customers.

That's where you can be, in my mind, very effective and efficient in actually driving new behaviours. Part of it also, let's be realistic, our relationship with food is not optimal in this country. We have problems with obesity, we have problems with the fact that a lot of Canadians are not eating the way they should and we are not training our kids to eat the way they should.

So we have to bring other solutions to the food plate if we really want to give everything we can give to our communities.

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