One parlayed his fruit stall and a knack for showmanship into a much admired grocery chain on the East Coast. Another took the tiny store founded by her great-grandfather to new heights on the West Coast.
Pete Luckett (right in photo) and Cori Bonina (left) are two of this year’s recipients of the “Life Member Designation”, awarded for lifetime contributions to independent grocery in Canada.
Three recipients for the annual award were announced by the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers on Tuesday.
Luckett, founder of Halifax-based Pete’s Fine Foods, and Bonina, president of Vancouver’s Stong’s Market, are recognized in the “Independent Grocer” category.
The other winner this year is Darryl Rowe (centre in photo). The president of Weston Bakeries is recognized in the “Industry Builder” category.
Also getting an award this year is Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. He takes the “Spirit of the Independent Award,” given for his “significant contributions to the growth of the entrepreneurial spirit of Canadian grocers,” said Tom Barlow, chief executive at CFIG.
The awards will be presented during the Canadian Independent Grocer of the Year awards on Oct. 18. The gala is part of CFIG’s Grocery Innovations Canada trade show and conference at the Toronto Congress Centre, Oct. 17 and 18.
Luckett honed his sales skills and love of the produce biz while a teenager working in busy outdoor food markets in Nottingham, England. At 21, he opened his own stall, then sold it to travel, ending up in Canada after dropping in on the Canadian consulate in Dallas.
In 1982, Luckett spent $300 to open a fruit stand in the city market in Saint John, N.B.. Pete’s Frootique, as it was called, became a hit thanks to Luckett's showmanship (he often wore a top hat and tails, shouting out to customers in his cockney accent). Soon he opened a grocery store in Halifax, the first of several Pete’s Frootiques that became known for their exceptional produce departments, deli, juice bars and gift basket shops.
Luckett also became a familiar face on TV, hosting segments about how to prepare produce on the CBC program Midday. He was known for his “toodle-dee-do” signoff each episode. Luckett sold his grocery stores to Sobeys a year ago to focus on his winery business.
Cori Bonina's great-grandfather, Carson Stong, opened the first Stong’s Market in Vancouver in 1931. The business eventually grew to five stores before a tough economy and big-box competition in the 1990s forced the sale of all but the company’s Dunbar location.
Bonina started working there at age 10. When she took over as general manager in 1997, Bonina quickly put the store through a $2.5-million, three-year renovation and dove into online shopping.
She also introduced a handful of savvy customer service initiatives, adding free valet parking, an in-store wellness centre staffed by a nutritionist and launched a line of products under the Cori’s Kitchen brand made daily in the store’s commissary.
Stong’s has been named the No. 1 grocery store in Vancouver 11 times under Bonina’s leadership, said CFIG, and in 2011 she served as chair of CFIG, the first woman to do so.
Earlier this year Stong’s opened a stylish 22,500 sq.-ft. store in North Vancouver and will reopen a renovated Dunbar store in December.
Rowe grew up in St. John’s, N.L. and spent a lifetime working at a who’s who of consumer packaged goods companies, including Coca-Cola and Rothmans Benson & Hedges.
After joining McCain Foods in 2006, he spent four years as president of the french-fry company’s Canadian division. Two years ago he was named president of Weston Bakeries.
Throughout his career, Rowe has earned a reputation for supporting independent grocers. In addition to serving as chair of Food and Consumer Products of Canada, he was chair of CFIG’s associate member committee.
“Darryl is a true Canadian who recognizes and supports a strong and healthy independent grocery business,” CFIG’s Barlow said.
McCain has held top spots at two of Canada’s most iconic foodmakers: McCain and Maple Leaf Foods.
McCain grew up at the Florenceville, N.B.-based McCain. The company was founded by his father, Wallace, and uncle, Harrison, in 1957. He rose through the ranks, eventually becoming president and CEO of McCain Foods USA.
In 1995, he moved to Maple Leaf Foods. As chief executive he has overseen a restructure of the company that included selling off divisions such as Canada Bread, closing old factories and investing billions in new plants and technology.
Maple Leaf posted $31.4 million in net income in its most recent quarter. It was the latest in a string of profitable earnings reports since the completion of the restructuring that McCain started.
The Spirit of the Independent Award is not given out each year by CFIG, but this year the association’s board of directors saw fit to give it to McCain for his support of independent grocers as well as “his commitment to ensuring that Canada has a strong grocery industry,” Barlow said. He added that McCain has stepped “beyond his own company’s needs” to “help provide industry-wide solutions and leadership.”
This isn’t the only grocery industry award for McCain this year. On Nov. 14 he will receive the Golden Pencil Award from the Food Industry Association of Canada.