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Everything you need to know about the Golden Pencil Award

It’s the grocery industry’s most prestigious honour. Shannon Higgins helps us understand why
Shannon Higgins
Shannon Higgins

For more than six decades, the Food Industry Association of Canada has been handing out the Golden Pencil Award to some of the most remarkable leaders in the Canadian grocery industry. 

The Award, originally called "Knights of the Golden Pencil Award", is steeped in history and has come to be considered the most prestigious award in the grocery industry. Here, we speak with Shannon Higgins, chairperson of the Food Industry Association of Canada and who's grandfather launched the award, about what's so special about the Golden Pencil.

How did the award come to be known as the Golden Pencil?

The 'Golden Pencil' is all about sealing the deal. It’s that crucial point when plans and promises on paper turn into real, impactful actions. In the bustling world of the grocery industry, where every agreement matters, the pencil is like a handshake – it seals trust and unity among suppliers, retailers, and everyone in between.

Can you provide a brief history of the awards?

The Golden Pencil Award has its origins in 1957, when my grandfather, Paul Higgins Sr., set out to recognize the trailblazers of the Canadian grocery scene. Right from the start, this award was meant to celebrate those brave enough to challenge the status quo and forge new paths. Over the decades, it has honoured industry giants like Harrison and Wallace, the pioneering co-founders of McCain Foods; Dick Currie, the transformative President and CEO of Loblaw; and David Sobey of Sobeys. These individuals didn’t just run businesses – they envisioned and drove remarkable innovations that reshaped our industry. Their lasting impact is a testament to the kind of visionary leadership the Golden Pencil Award seeks to recognize.

READ: Former Nestlé exec Steve Fox, Loblaw's Frank Gambioli join Food Industry Association executive committee

Why is it such a prestigious award in the Canadian grocery industry?

What truly distinguishes the Golden Pencil Award is its peer-driven selection process. Industry insiders – those who best understand the market’s nuances and challenges – select the winners. This ensures that the award honours genuine innovators and visionaries. Esteemed figures like Brandt Louie, Chairman and CEO of H.Y. Louie Co.; Anthony Longo, President and CEO of Longo’s; and Jean Pigott of Morrison Lamothe Foods are just a few of the past recipients we have honoured. Their notable achievements not only reflect their personal commitment to excellence but also serve as an inspiration for the entire industry to aspire to greater heights.

What characteristics define a typical Golden Pencil winner?

Think of Golden Pencil winners as the trendsetters of the grocery world. They’re the ones everyone else is watching. These leaders not only chase success, but they also do it with an innovative spirit and a strong sense of ethics. They’re about making a mark and doing it right.

What is the Food Industry Association of Canada looking for in a winner?

The Food Industry Association of Canada is on the lookout for those who drive their businesses forward but also take the time to lift others up. They value leaders who think about the bigger picture – community impact, environmental sustainability and setting an example for how businesses can do well by doing good.

Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

The Golden Pencil Award isn’t just another trophy on the shelf. It’s a call to action for everyone who’s part of, or thinking about joining, the grocery industry. It celebrates those who have made significant strides and inspires new generations to step up and shape the future.

Still time to nominate for the 2024 Golden Pencil Award!

The deadline to submit a nomination is May 24.

Winners will be recognized at the annual Golden Pencil Awards presentation following GroceryConnex at Toronto's Fairmont Royal York on Nov. 25. 

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