2021 Star Women in Grocery winner Julie Dickson Olmstead (Q&A)
Canadian Grocer staff
Julie Dickson Olmstead
Managing Director, Public Affairs and Corporate Responsibility
How did you get into the grocery business?
I was hired as a service clerk (pushing buggies and packing groceries) at my local Overwaitea Foods store a month before I graduated from high school in 1988, and I’ve basically been in the business ever since.
What's your proudest career moment?
I have been so privileged to work on so many fantastic projects over my career and I am always so proud of how quickly our company can mobilize to achieve a goal. One recent example was when I realized that we had hit our stated five-year goal of reducing food waste by 50% within six months of announcing it. We committed to redirecting the surplus food to best and highest use … and along the way, we have provided for more than 20 million donated meals to people in need; and provided ongoing support to more than 1,100 local charities and hundreds of small family farms. I was also very proud and honoured to be invited to be part of the National Food Policy Advisory Council earlier this year.
What's the best advice you've ever received?
There are three pieces of advice that have guided me: 1) You should be excited to get up and go to work every day. If you aren’t, you’re in the wrong job; 2) Go big or go home; and 3) Be part of the solution.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced in your career?
Having to say no. Especially when it comes to finding creative solutions for our customers or communities. I don’t give up on things very easily: if it’s the right thing to do, there’s always a way.
What are some of your biggest career highlights/greatest achievements?
Early in my career, as a very new department manager in a newly opened store, I talked somebody into letting me order a whole semi-trailer load of pistachios for an in-store display and summertime sales promotion I wanted to try. They supported me after a healthy debate (pistachios are not cheap!) and it worked! Another highlight was when we launched our first set of stores in Calgary, and I led the team that set a Guinness World Record for the longest line of carved pumpkins. We engaged schools and kids’ groups across the city to help us carve all 1,301 of them—it was stressful, but we had so much fun! Another achievement: with the support of our leadership, making, creating a program for, and supporting the team in completing a $20-million pledge to BC Children’s Hospital’s Child Health BC program, to help give kids the care they need closest to their hometowns.
And working in cooperation with the B.C. provincial government and industry, I was instrumental in development of the British Columbia School Fruit and Vegetable Nutritional Program, aimed at improving the health of children, communities and local growers. Over the course of a decade, the program grew from a 10-school pilot to an internationally recognized program providing healthy local snacks and education to more than 500,000 school children each year in 90% of B.C. schools (K to 12 and all First Nations schools), advancing child health and driving business results for B.C. growers, producers and distribution partners. Now, 16 years later, the program serves all public and First Nations schools in the province.
What you like most about your job?
It’s different every day. My job is very unpredictable and really, really interesting. I get to work with so many smart people and I literally learn something new every single day.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am grateful and honoured to work on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded territories of the Katzie, Semiahmoo, Kwantlen and other Coast Salish Peoples. I am also very humbled to be recognized with this award alongside the other leaders and trailblazers in our industry who have received it. I am proud to be counted among them.
Click here for the full list of 2021 Star Women in Grocery award winners.