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How Farm Boy’s Alessandra Bisaillon Takes the Lead

Canadian Grocer chats with the director of marketing and media relations for the fast-growing Ontario grocer
4/8/2024
Allessandra Bisaillon
Alessandra Bisaillon

Having recently opened its 48th location, in Oshawa, Ont., Farm Boy is a growing grocery banner in the province. An important part of its successful expansion has been the marketing, advertising and media outreach the brand does to connect with existing and potential customers. 

Taking the lead on that front is Alessandra Bisaillon, who joined the Empire Co. Ltd.-owned grocer in December 2022. She had previously spent a year as director of marketing at Loblaw Cos. Ltd. and, before that, 15 years in strategic and marketing roles at Suncor

Since joining Farm Boy over one year ago, Bisaillon has forged a mix of earned, owned, paid and shared media to the retailer’s marcomm efforts. Owned channels include on Instagram, where Farm Boy has grown its following to more than 74,000 – a robust number for the sector – and Pinterest, where it has 1,000 followers and its page generates 571,000 monthly views.

Here, Bisaillon talks about Farm Boy’s adoption of digital marketing channels, AI’s role in marketing and leading with empathy.

Tell us about the marketing transformation Farm Boy has undergone. 

Farm Boy's marketing transformation has been a successful journey characterized by both staying true to our brand’s roots and embracing innovation. This included recognizing the need to adapt our marketing strategies to resonate with new markets, particularly in the competitive Greater Toronto Area region. 

While Farm Boy initially relied heavily on traditional marketing methods like radio and print, our expansion demanded a shift towards digital channels to effectively connect with a broader audience. 

Drawing from an incredible, rich history with deeply rooted values, our Farm Boy team embarked on a journey to share compelling stories about Farm Boy’s value proposition, our local vendors, farmers and community-driven initiatives. This approach fostered genuine connections with customers and by tapping into the existing organic fanbase, further amplified our brand's reach and impact. Farm Boy’s commitment to creating a best-in-class customer experience with fresh, high-quality products at great value, differentiates us from our competitors. We also recognize, among other reasons, a significant factor drawing customers back to us, is the loyal, value connection inherent in our private-label line. 

What were the keys to making the transformation a success? 

Leading this transformative journey required a multifaceted marketing approach, blending strategic vision with hands-on leadership. One of the key strategies employed was a marketing reset, starting last spring, which involved a focused effort on the GTA market without losing touch with our loyal customer base in eastern Ontario. We recognized the need to bridge the gap between these two audiences, while staying true to our core brand values.

READ: As consumers search for value, Farm Boy delivers with its stable of private-label products

To achieve this, we invested heavily in new digital channels such as Meta, TikTok and Pinterest, while also revamping our influencer strategies and PR initiatives. Additionally, we shifted our marketing efforts towards a more balanced media mix between print and digital, reflecting the evolving preferences of our customer base. Through effective collaboration with internal stakeholders and external partners, we were able to successfully execute this vision, driving innovation and performance across all fronts.

What were big wins and challenges along the way? 

One notable milestone was achieving a large incremental lift in store traffic within the GTA, indicating the success of our marketing initiatives. 

However, we also faced challenges, such as bridging the gap between our eastern Ontario fanbase and the new GTA audience.

One pivotal moment in overcoming these challenges was the Toronto Midtown Test Project, a focused and hyperlocal digital-first campaign that demonstrated tangible results, including incremental brand awareness for Farm Boy in an infancy market. These successes underscored the effectiveness of our approach and provided valuable insights for future strategies and tactics.

@officialfarmboy_ 📣 ALL NEW FARM BOY FINDS! What's been your standout #FarmBoyFinds ♬ misty - rattyfishsquad

What mantras have guided your career as a marcomms leader? 

My guiding mantra through leading this marketing transformation has been to stay true to my moral compass, respectful to Farm Boy’s brand roots and values, while embracing innovation. Putting people first, fostering effective collaboration, communication and transparency within my team, as well as across all other functions of the business, has been instrumental in navigating this journey. When stakeholders are informed and feel a part of the process, team dynamics are strengthened and the commitment to delivering exceptional customer experiences is achieved. This approach has ultimately driven creativity, innovation and performance, while staying true to Farm Boy’s brand values.

Throughout my career, leading with intention, building trust, encouraging open communication, change advocacy and a willingness to test and learn, has created a supportive, positive and productive environment. When team members feel valued, inspired and appreciated, they become your most valuable brand ambassadors, ready to tackle any challenge together. 

What role do you see technology like generative AI playing in marcomms of a grocery brand today?

In today’s digital age, and as a marketer who is inspired by change, I’m both fascinated and uncertain about AI's potential. While it promises a transformation in the retail and marketing industries, much remains to explore and understand. However, amidst the excitement, one thing remains clear – regardless of technological advancements, our brand’s genuineness and values must shine through. Quality and relatability are just as crucial as speed and quantity across all communication channels. 

READ: How embracing artificial intelligence can elevate the shopper experience 

What fulfills you outside of work that makes you a better leader at work?

 I find fulfillment in giving back to my local community through volunteer work and charitable initiatives, along with my Customer Experience/C/X Council work with the Canadian Marketing Association. My commitment to making a positive impact beyond the business realm helps me build on my leadership values and strengthens my ability to connect with others. By leading with empathy and compassion, I'm better equipped to inspire my team and drive meaningful change both within Farm Boy and in the broader community. Whether it's my work and dedication within the Halton community, being a member of parent council at my daughters’ school or with the Canadian Marketing Association, I'm deeply committed to giving back and making a positive impact both within the business realm and beyond.

In my personal time, I prioritize staying active and spending quality moments with my supportive husband and amazing two young daughters. Their presence reminds me of the importance of balance and connection, both outside of work and community responsibilities.

Canadian Grocer's How I Take The Lead series speaks to people from across the industry about a specific project or initiative they led. You’ll hear from grocery leaders about their passions, how they tackle challenges, what they’ve learned and what keeps them motivated. Have a pitch? Send it to digital editor Jillian Morgan

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