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Canadian Grocer announces 2012 Generation Next Finalists


Canadian Grocer magazine has just announced the finalists for this year's Generation Next Awards.

The Generation Next Awards recognize the up-and-coming leaders in the grocery and consumer packaged goods industries. “NEXT” stands for New Exciting Thinkers and to qualify for the award individuals must be under the age of 40 as of December 31, 2012 and have demonstrated innovation, leadership and a commitment to the grocery industry.

The eight finalists–five men and three women–represent a diverse group. Four work in retail and four in the wider food industry. But they all have one thing in common: a commitment to improving the grocery and food industry in Canada.

Winners of the Generation Next Award (one from the retail side and one from the food industry side) will be announced at the  Golden Pencil Awards Nov. 19th in Toronto.

Here are this year's finalists: (To read their full story, pick up a copy of Canadian Grocer magazine's November issue, out now.)

Alexis Williams

Obesity issues have fascinated (and worried) Alexis Williams for as long as she can remember. So it came as no surprise to family and friends when she chose a career with a singular mission: keeping Canadians healthy. The 30-year old registered dietitian is director of health and wellness for Loblaw. There, she has helped push the health of consumers to the top of the company’s priority list. Williams developed the in-store dietitian program in Loblaw’s Ontario stores, assisted with the launch of the Guiding Stars program and partnered with the retailer’s pharmacy team to deploy integrated health program on diabetes.

Alexis Williams, Loblaw's director of health and wellness

Matthew Malek

As Sobeys’ talent acquisition manager in the heated Alberta economy, Matthew Malek has had to be more than a little creative finding employees for his company. The 33-year-old decided his best bet was to get a little bit more education. After completing specialized courses in labour and immigration, he became the company’s go-to guy for all immigration questions.The problem with recruiting foreign workers, says Malek, is that they often have a difficult time navigating Canada’s complex immigration system. That’s where he can help with guidance and support.

Matthew Malek (left) is Sobeys' talent acquisition manager; at right is Matthew Zook, Sobeys director of customer and market insights

Matthew Zook

Zook works at Sobeys’ corporate office in Edmonton, where the 30-year old is charged with mining vast amounts of customer data to find those customer nuggets that help drive sales. Zook is director of market and customer insights, a relatively new position in the grocery industry, but one that is becoming more important. The information he uncovers helps Sobeys “better evaluate past business performance and better forecast the future behaviour of our customers,” Zook says. By studying customers’ behaviour and finding patterns, he can help his company answer everything from ‘How much are customers spending in store?’ to ‘How will customers react if we change our pricing?’

John Rowe

John Rowe created Honibe, a honey product in lozenge form that can be eaten as candy or melted in tea. Then in 2010, Rowe’s tiny P.E.I.-based Island Abbey Foods company won the SIAL d’Or award at the bi-annual Sial food expo in Paris, effectively crowning Honibe the most innovative product in the world. Rowe not only managed to reinvent a product that hasn’t changed much in decades, he also proved that innovation doesn’t need the deep pockets of a major food company.

John Rowe, of Island Abbey Foods

Amy Proulx

The 34-year old professor is creator and co-ordinator of the Culinary Innovation and Food Technology program at Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., a three-year diploma that mixes culinary arts and food science with a large dollop of new food product development and commercialization. At her insistence, students work directly with people in the industry, including retailers and ingredient suppliers. The result, Proulx says, is a new breed of food science student with the training and practical skills needed to work in the industry.

David Smith

David Smith, senior brand manager at Newell Rubbermaid Canada, led the 2008 launch of Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lid Food Storage product line. By all accounts, the project was a success. Since the products landed on shelves, Rubbermaid has doubled its food storage business in Canada and grown its market share. Much of those gains were made in the grocery channel. These days, Smith is working on reinvigorating the Goody hair accessories brand. The 2012 launch of Goody’s QuikStyle brush is already getting positive reviews, thanks in part to a strong communications strategy.

David Smith, senior brand manager at Newell Rubbermaid Canada

Cher Mereweather

As managing director of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors, Cher Mereweather represents 10 associations and acts as the voice of the province’s food and beverage processing sector.  In her previous job at the Guelph Food Technology Centre, Mereweather led an environmental sustainability assessment program. It was a resounding success, resulting in 25 different manufacturers initiating 65 environment and sustainability projects. Mereweather has a nuanced understanding of the industry, which is why she’s able to build effective programs. "It’s about business planning and getting employees engaged and really changing the mindset of the industry,” she says.

Cher Mereweather, managing director of the Alliance of Ontario Food Processors

Won Suk Ha

The 29-year-old category and marketing manager at Galleria Supermarket in Toronto is as adept at showing customers how to shuck oysters as he is at crunching numbers. “If you don’t interact with customers, how can you find out what they are thinking?” he says. After leaving Galleria for a short stint at Hudson’s Bay Company, Ha returned to the ethnic supermarket with a plan to expand the store’s consumer base. In addition to introducing more mainstream products to Galleria, Ha has also become the company’s face. He’s organized a Master Merchandise Award for CFIG, made numerous television appearances and organized a cooking contest for non-Koreans.

Won Suk Ha, category and marketing manager at Galleria Supermarket

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