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2024 Star Women in Grocery Award Winner Michelle Saunders (Q&A)

Senior-Level Star
2024 star women
Michelle Saunders

Michelle Saunders

Vice-President, Sustainability
Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada

How did you get into the association/sustainability side of the business?

My background is in politics. I was a political advisor in the Ontario government in the beginning of my career, working for a number of cabinet ministers and the premier. I lost my job when the government changed at the general election, and I then went on to do government relations in trade associations, always with sustainability on the side of my desk. I’ve been with FHCP for 13 years and spent much of it as a provincial lobbyist. A few years ago, I chose to focus strictly on sustainability because it provided the greatest opportunity to learn and grow. It has been the best decision for my career.

What are some of your biggest wins on the sustainability front?

Without question, the biggest sustainability win has been to secure an endorsement by FHCP’s board of directors of the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s vision for zero plastic waste. We were the first Canadian trade association to do so, and we see it as a matter of leadership and ambition. That endorsement is foundational to our work, and it serves as a north star for our efforts and advocacy. We are always striving to do more, enable others to make progress and improve environmental outcomes. 

The primary focus of my role is on public policy and regulations at both the federal and provincial levels, but our greatest strides have been through voluntary collaborative industry efforts such as the establishment of the Canada Plastics Pact. 

What keeps you motivated at work?

It’s a privilege to work for an association with purpose, and to work with and represent member companies that make the products Canadians trust and rely on every day. I’m very fortunate to be empowered in my role. Sustainability is a rapidly evolving landscape. It’s as equally motivating for me to work with industry leaders as it is to work with individuals just newly stepping into sustainability roles and helping them navigate their roles and issues. 

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

There’s lots of tidbits I recall regularly and that serve me well. Avoid qualifying language. Allow silence. Stay curious. But my favourite advice is to not wait to get to the top before you lead. This is true in day-to-day work and has also led to my involvement as a mentor in a number of informal and formal mentorship programs. 

What is your best quality – and how does it help you in your role?

I have an ability to focus on the big picture and the goal and to not be distracted by extraneous noise or conflict. That serves my members well. On a more personal level, I think my best quality at work is the ability to make personal connections. We don’t need to all be friends, but we need to see each other as humans. I lead a committee of around 200 people from dozens and dozens of companies, and I try to connect directly with as many teams as possible throughout the year. To establish my own priorities, I always ask members about theirs, and if I haven’t heard from people in a while, I check in on them. 

How do you spend your time outside of work?

I volunteer with organizations that support people with disabilities, and specifically the groups that have and do support my son, who has a rare genetic condition. I’m a single mom so I don’t get a lot of time to myself, but when I do, I regularly travel to small cities and towns around Ontario for a change of scenery and to check out little art galleries. Inevitably I end up by the water and listen to the waves lap in.

Click here for the full list of 2024 Star Women in Grocery award winners.

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