2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Ellen Osborne (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
How did you get into the grocery business?
It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do. I was working in corporate HR, and spending all my time cooking and exploring grocery stores and farmers’ markets in my free time. I knew I wanted to switch to grocery, but it took me a while to fully make the transition. I was able to convince the owners of The Healthy Butcher to give me a job after sending them a cold-call email. It was part time at first, and I continued to work for a HR tech start up, but after a year, I was ready to make the transition to full time and it was one of the best decisions.
What would you say is your best quality?
I think it’s important to help local businesses and give them guidance. As a buyer, I see a lot of new products made with passion and care by local people. They often have a great product, but struggle with getting customers to try it. Working in retail, particularly in a small store where I have a more intimate customer experience, gives me the unique opportunity to really understand what customers are after and share that with local producers. Having those intimate customer insights is something retailers don’t get in large chains, so I’m happy to share my insights with local producers so they can not only build products better suited for our stores, but also for larger retailers as well.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
I would say overall that it was a challenge just to transition into grocery. I did not have a background in grocery or retail, only a passion, and so my early jobs both with Healthy Butcher and Summerhill were definitely baptism by fire. I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t have a healthy amount of imposter syndrome in my roles, but I think my passion for food has led me through the learning curve.
What are some of your biggest career highlights/greatest achievements?
Being part of the new store opening for Summerhill was a big achievement for me. I had never opened a new store before, and didn’t really know what to expect when the project began. The number of problems that we had to resolve was quite astounding; challenges that had to be overcome included everything from the inability to get new products into the store because of COVID-related shortages, to setting up and organizing the store, to building the team for the store—and it was incredibly rewarding when we overcame those challenges. It was a personal high for me to experience that first opening day, and the response from the community to the store was exceptionally positive. To give you an example, I had overheard some of our customers comment positively about the design and layout of the store, as well as some saying that the store opening was the highlight of their week, because they hadn’t been able to go anywhere owing to pandemic-lockdowns. It really reinforced for me that a grocery store can actually be a critical part of a community, and providing a positive experience for our communities is very rewarding.
What do you like most about your job?
I’ve always been passionate about food and new products, and so being able to do that for my career is certainly wonderful. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I’m actually the kind of person that spends a good chunk of their weekends going to other grocery stores just because I like to explore new food products. Being able to do that for my career as well is very rewarding.
Anything else you would like to add?
It is great to see Canadian Grocer highlighting women in grocery, and I’m honoured to be recognized! Huge thanks to the Summerhill team for their hard work and all their continued support.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.