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UP and coming talent

Meet the finalists of our first annual Generation Next Awards.

Marc Viola

AGE: 35

Marc Viola deals with the most important part of a grocery business–the employees. As senior director of talent at Loblaw, he oversees a staff of 30 recruiters who hire 1,600 people a year across Loblaw’s corporate business units.

A graduate of Humber College's post-graduate human resources program, Viola began his career with Loblaw's parent company, George Weston Limited, in 2002. Three years later he moved to Loblaw and, in 2008, was appointed senior talent director, establishing Loblaw's first-ever centralized corporate recruitment team, which has worked out some innovative ways to find great staff. Last year, for instance, Viola targeted IT workers commuting to downtown Toronto who might be interested in working closer to home, in this case Loblaw's head office in suburban Brampton. The subsequent ad campaign inside commuter train stations resulted in 11 new hires for hard-to-fill IT spots.

Viola has also ramped up Loblaw’s social media hiring strategies and earlier this year established a recruitment roundtable that allows Loblaw HR employees around the country to share their best ideas. And he developed tools and training that make it easier for store managers to fill vacancies.

A strong believer in giving back, Viola set up the Vanguard Award in 2007. The annual bursary awards $750 to an HR graduate from Humber College, his alma mater, in Toronto.

Since launching the award, he’s donated $3,000 of his own money to deserving students. “I had such a positive experience in the program. I promised myself, once I reached a specific level in my career that I would do something to give back to the school,” he says.
By Pete Russell

Neil Kudrinko

AGE: 36

Neil Kudrinko represents the next generation of independents in Canada: relentlessly innovative and always with an eye on sustainability and local foods. “My commitment to the food industry goes far beyond the four walls of my store,” he says. “I am determined to play an active role in creating a better food industry for our farmers, producers, distributors, retailers and, most importantly, our customers.”

Kudrinko grew up working in his father’s grocery store, in Westport, Ont., then headed off to university for a degree in political science. While studying, he also worked as a political assistant to federal Member of Parliament Joe Jordan before returning home to take over the day-to-day operation of the family store. As he recalls now, “From the outset I was not concerned with simply minding my parents’ shop. I set an aggressive course that would see our company change how it operates, the image it enjoys and the values it espouses.”

Kudrinko took the store from franchise to all-independent. Then, with a strong belief in going green, he spent $600,000 on a renovation that included energy-efficient refrigeration and HVAC equipment. The result was a 39 per cent cut in carbon dioxide emissions and 33 per cent saved in energy costs.

Kudrinko has also gone out of his way to establish close connections with food producers in his area. This past July he organized a local food celebration event in his store, giving away burgers from a local beef farm and handing out samples of local cheese, maple syrup and ice cream. By Bob Chamberlain

Mike Longo

AGE: 35

Like so many others with the last name Longo, Mike Longo grew up in the family business. Now as vice-president of fresh merchandising for Longo Brothers’ 23 stores in and around Toronto, Longo is always looking for new ways to serve customers and make their lives easier.

Case in point is Dinner Night Done Right, a program he was responsible for developing. Between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. every day, customers can get a meal deal for a family of four at a great price. The key is that each day of the week it’s the same: Thursday is pizza night and Tuesday is sushi; Wednesday night’s “Chicken Night Done Right” has resulted in Longo’s doubling its dinner sales. And shoppers who come in to get dinner also usually pick up other items as well, Longo says. “It’s become a fresh tradition amongst Longo’s customers.”

Longo was also the driving force behind Longo’s purchase of Fresco’s, a prepared-foods manufacturer based in London, Ont., known for its salads and stir fries. And he’s made developing relationships with growers, both local and international, a priority. Longo’s produce team of 30 people regularly visits growers across North America to learn about their operation and products and to seek new items. “For us this has been really important. Our team gets to meet the farmers and hear their stories.”
By Pete Russell

Jay Klein

AGE: 31

Back in Grade 7 Jay Klein sold candy to fellow students out of his back pack for a quarter each. “I never ate the candy because that would have cut into my profits,” he says. Today he runs Pür Gum, a Toronto-based maker of aspartame-free gum sold in some 3,500 stores across North America.

After he graduated with a doublemajor in political science and communications from York University, Klein decided to launch an advertising agency. Working with consumer packaged goods companies from time to time he became fascinated by the industry and hit on the idea of becoming a food maker himself. In particular, he saw an opportunity in the gum market. “It’s a $20 billion category and there are basically four players.” His first gum came out three years ago, but Klein knew that to have a big hit, he needed something more unique. He got his answer after learning that many people don’t chew gum because it contains aspartame, a synthetic sweetener. The result of that a-ha moment is Pür Gum. Launched in May 2010, it’s sweetened with xylitol, a natural product derived from non-GMO corn cobs.

In addition to pumping up Pür Gum (Klein says he has commitments to put the gum in another 10,000 stores and hopes to go global with it) he helps out in the community as well, sitting on the board of governors at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, and he is a member of the Young Leadership Committee of the Pediatric Oncology Group of Ontario. “It’s always nice to see people who are wildly successful, but it’s more impressive when you see them give back,” he says. By Rob Gerlsbeck

Fraiser De Walle

AGE: 31

Fraser de Walle was just 25 when he became Canadian sales manager at Voortman Cookies. The Calgary-based de Walle has since gotten the venerable cookie brand listed into several of Canada’s top retailers and made a big push on in-store promotions, helping to boost sales. De Walle, however, is the first to admit he couldn’t have done it alone and gives enormous credit to his 17 district, regional and account managers and 88 sales distributors across the country. "They’re all really motivated and this is a team effort.”

After graduating from Dordt College in Iowa, de Walle started working for Voortman in 2002. By then he’d already done an internship with the Calgary-based company and was also familiar with it through his grandfather, who’d worked in the food industry for years with McGavin’s Bread, then later Voortman. Within a year, de Walle was promoted to central Ontario district sales manager, then in 2005 he got the national job.

De Walle is particularly keen on making sure Voortman products aren’t just listed in stores but that they are also doing well for retailers. “ that our promotions are beneficial to the store in terms of profit and volume sales.”

A father of three, de Walle is a head coach in the Calgary Youth Soccer Association and an active member of his local church. By Rob Gerlsbeck

Tby Berkel

AGE: 38

For 10 years Toby Berkel and the company he works for, Allied Reclamation, has played a vital role in the Canadian grocery industry. Allied acts as an auditor for retailers and wholesalers in the management, removal and processing of damaged product from stores and warehouses, sending it to food banks instead of to landfill.

Berkel was in university studying political science when his father, already working at Allied, asked him to join the company. That was in the late 1990s and Allied proceeded to develop an industry-accepted protocol system for unsaleables. The system lets manufacturers find out why product got damaged and how to correct the situation. Previously, product just got trashed, he says.

Berkel has gone one more step by making sure damaged product doesn’t go to waste by having it donated to food banks and other charities. “It’s millions of pounds each year and we make sure it only goes to accredited food banks. So it’s not going to a charity that’s going to resell or barter the merchandise, or to a liquidator that’s going to compete with retailers.” Even pet food and pet litter unsaleables aren’t wasted. They go to pet shelters, he says.

Berkel has made sure his own company gives back as well. For the last two years, Allied has donated a car on behalf of its clients that is auctioned off at the Night to Nurture gala in February, with proceeds going to Kids Help Phone and the Grocery Foundation. By Bob Chamberlain

Matthew Feaver

AGE: 31

Trying to explain the importance of shopper insights, Matthew Feaver comes up with this: “An idea that isn’t based on insight is just a shot in the dark.”

As shopper insights manager at Campbell, he leads a four-person team that dives deep into consumer data, putting two and two together to come up with insights for Campbell so it doesn’t need to take a shot in the dark.

Feaver had an interest in consumer behaviour early on. His dad worked in marketing and “we’d talk about that stuff over the dinner table.” After working on Nestle’s Carnation brand, he joined Canadian Tire, helping to develop what became known as Project Darwin, the Tire’s attempt to better understand men and what makes them happy. (As it turns out men are happiest when their home life and wives are happy.) At Campbell he created an internal “Insight of the Quarter” whereby his team explains a particular insight they’ve uncovered. For instance, he recently looked at consumer cooking behaviours and how Campbell’s can link in to those behaviours with its brands. The key to learning what makes shoppers tick, he says, is “really not about searching for the right answers. It’s searching for the right questions.”

In September Feaver was invited to join the Association for Managers of Innovation, an American group made up of senior-level managers involved in innovation from around the world that shares ideas. He was also among the founders of the AMI’s Canadian chapter, the Association of Innovation, and he recently got involved with the Daily Bread Food Bank, lending his research expertise to craft the food bank’s Who’s Hungry project. By Rob Gerlsbeck

Brian Johns

Giancarlo Trimarchi


Back in the 1950s, Vince’s was a fruit market in tiny Sharon, Ont., north of Toronto. Then under the ownership of Carmen Trimarchi, it grew to three excellent grocery stores–in Sharon, Uxbridge and Newmarket–that lived up to their tag line: “...Because food is one of life’s great pleasures.” Today, Vince’s partners Brian Johns and Trimarchi’s son Giancarlo, are taking the business to new heights with a savvy mix of technology and passion.

Johns started working at the store when he was 15, then after school owned two Subway franchises before purchasing a stake in Vince’s. Together he and Giancarlo Trimarchi have introduced a program called the Coterie Club. Customers who sign on to the loyalty program receive special offers that are sent to their cellphone, ranging from discounts to free products. Once in-store, the customer punches in a nine-digit code into a kiosk to receive the coupons for the products. The simplicity of the program (to be a member customers only need to provide their cell number) has driven the redemption rate to 30 to 40 per cent, “which is unheard of,” says Johns.

Coterie means “group of close friends,” and clinching on that brand name, Johns and Trimarchi have also started to launch private-label products under the Coterie name, mainly organic and higher price point items. For instance, there are now Coterie hand-packed pickles, a chili cooking sauce and pasta sauces. Meanwhile, the pair are heading online. Vince’s mobile website is now more like a blog with articles on nutrition and gluten-free. And behind the scenes they are launching Flyerpro, a system for vendors to book and keep track of ad spots in Vince’s flyer. Johns, however, is modest about their accomplishments, crediting the elder Trimarchi for his leadership. “He gives us freedom to try new things.” By Pete Russell

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