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The veteran Loblaw pitchman behind President's Choice dies at age 73

Loblaws pitchman David Nichol, shown Nov. 27, 1992.

KEVIN WHITFIELD/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

For more than a decade, he was the public face of grocer Loblaw Cos. Ltd., appearing in its ads as the pitchman for its President's Choice and No Name private labels. In marketing circles, he was an iconic figure, touting the chain's foods with passion and authority.

Dave Nichol, who passed away on Sunday at age 73, was a foodie before the term became popular, using a folksy style in television commercials that helped propel President's Choice into one of the country's top brands.

"We are deeply saddened and our thoughts and prayers go out to Dave's family," said Galen G. Weston, Loblaw executive chairman, in a statement. "Dave's passion for food and his vision helped to transform the way Canadians eat, and he has left a tremendous legacy that endures in the company today. He will be missed by all who had the opportunity to work with him and benefit from his guidance and friendship."

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Many of the products he introduced are still on the market today, including the President's Choice Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie, which turned 25 this year.

Mr. Nichol led the way in introducing what, in his day, were groundbreaking foods – from Memories of Szechwan Peanut Sauce to Zipper Back Shrimp – at a time when many Canadians counted on beef and potatoes for their daily fare.

He helped transform Loblaw into an aggressive food retailer from a stodgy grocery chain that W. Galen Weston had been charged by his family to turn around.

He "attained the status of a cult hero and taste arbiter to the nation," according to the jacket summary of The Edible Man: Dave Nichol President's Choice and the making of popular taste, written by Anne Kingston in 1994.

"He became the consumer's ally with his low-priced No Name brand; he tapped into modern food obsessions with his imprimatur President's Choice label; he assuaged environmental concerns with G.R.E.E.N. products; and he fed health phobias with his Too Good To Be True! items."

As a marketer, he made his name in introducing the first Insider's Report promotional magazine in November, 1983, touting the story behind the products that Loblaw stocked on its shelves. The publication "reflected his belief that success required not just great products, but great stories as well," Loblaw said in an internal message. "He always listened to the customer and kept their needs front-and-centre."

Mr. Nichol joined Loblaw in 1972 and held various roles with the company, including president of Loblaw Supermarkets and head of its product development team. Over 22 years with the company, he made significant contributions to Loblaw, most notably as the force behind establishing the PC brand, Loblaw said in its message. He later went on to head a subsidiary of beverage maker Cott Corp. and then did consulting work.

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In January 2005, Mr. Nichol was selected by the American Marketing Association as one of its first inductees into the Hall of Canadian Marketing Legends.

As the association said: "Dave Nichol has been credited with many things during his career. The simplest assessment is that he has changed the retail landscape forever and has done so in a sustainable and meaningful way. A lifelong passion for food has translated into fundamental evolutions in the choices and quality of food products available to Canadian households."

Born in Chatham, Ont. in 1940, he holds a degree in business administration from the University of Western Ontario as well as a law degree from the University of British Columbia and a post-graduate degree from the Harvard Law School. Before joining Loblaw, he worked with consultancy McKinsey and Company Inc.

Until recently his consulting firm, Dave Nichol & Associates, continued to create unique products on behalf of his domestic and international clients.

A memorial service is planned for spring. It will be announced at later date.

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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