2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Cristine Laforest (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
Bel Cheese Canada
How did you get into the grocery/CPG business?
I was recruited from university by P&G, and worked as a sales representative for a few years in their Health and Beauty division, tackling grocery and drug stores across Quebec. Later on, I concentrated my career in the dairy industry where I developed commercial and marketing expertise for well-known brands such as Boursin, Babybel and The Laughing Cow. I have been part of the Bel Group for nearly 13 years and was promoted in February 2020 to general manager/CEO of Bel Cheese Canada, a company of 200-plus people.
What are you proudest about in terms of your work?
When I took over the general manager’s position, one month prior to the COVID crisis, the challenge was to ensure business continuity while taking the lead of the business unit, and communicate my vision and ambition to engage the team in this new adventure. Now more than a year later, we have reached historical sales on all of our brands. We have established our long-term goals and the teams are delivering more than ever, with passion and care.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career?
In 2008, Bel Cheese Canada changed its business model, going from an approach with an external distributor to a fully autonomous model. This daring change led us to create a sales department with direct contact with our retailers, and the set-up of a supply chain function to distribute and deliver our products in record time. It was an undertaking like no other, which required agility, resilience and a change in leadership style. It made us stronger and closer to our partners and retailers, while developing the skills and engagement of our people.
What is your leadership style/philosophy?
I aspire to be an inspiring leader who is able to communicate the vision and dreams of Bel Cheese Canada, engaging the teams on this fast accelerating growth, while clearly communicating how their contribution can be beneficial to them and for us. I push employees to work on their development plan and voice their aspirations. Our role as leaders is to help them be fulfilled and achieve their career goals. I am positive, and want my people to have fun in their job—our ambitious and can-do attitude is one of the keys to the success of our organization.
What do you like most about your job?
I love the autonomy that I have as the leader of a growing business unit, and I feel empowered by our global organization which supports my decisions. I learn every day, and I develop new projects and ideas. I am also challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone by inspiring people. The culture of our organization is team spirit, energy, trust and solidarity.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.