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Leading the way

Pierre-Alexandre Blouin, the new leader of the Quebec Food Retailer’s Association (ADA), has ambitions to make the organization an even stronger voice for la belle province’s food retailers

Given current market realities,
it’s not the easiest of times to lead a retail association. But having spent the last several years overseeing communications at ADA and learning the ropes from the association’s long-time leader Florent Gravel, Pierre-Alexandre Blouin is up for the challenge.

Canadian Grocer spoke to Blouin recently about the pressures facing the industry and the plans he has for the 60-plus- year-old organization.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:


What issues concern your members most right now?
Competition, first and foremost. We are facing some very different competitors right now and the sector is changing rapidly. Another really important issue is a lack of employees in Quebec . We have to differentiate ourselves from the big, new competitors emerging in the market, but at the same time we have to offer great service to our customers. To do that we need good employees and a high number of employees; the big challenge right now is finding a way to attract people—this is something we’ll have to work really hard at to find solutions.

You mention differentiation—is this the best strategy for fending off threats from the likes of Amazon?
I think we need to make sure we’re the best at what we do. We can invest in e-commerce, but it’s probably not the solution for everyone. Same thing with technology. Investing in technology is a must but it doesn’t mean every retailer can just serve every customer with robots and automatic cash; there are consumers who do not want this kind of service. They want to talk to people, they want to touch products. I think there’s a place, for sure, for our retailers and we have a role to play in feeding Canadians.

What is the outlook for food retail?
I think the conditions of commerce are really tough at the moment. But at the same time, consumers have many different needs and we need different stores to answer these needs. And we’re seeing a return to Main Street shopping—to butcher shops, bakeries and for specialty products. People tend to like to know their retailers and this is where our members fit in. So, while we have challenges, we also have opportunity.

ADA has been around since 1955. How do you ensure it remains relevant?

We want to establish ourselves as the voice for food retail in Quebec. To do that we have to get even closer to our members and rally sectors that are currently less involved in our association. We want to represent all retailers—grocery, convenience, any size—but it can be a challenge reaching smaller members. But we have board members who are store owners, so we have retailers representing retailers—that’s the face of ADA.

What else will the association be focused on over the next year and beyond?
Collaborating more with the whole industry—producers, processors, chains and organizations such as the Canadian Federation of Independent Grocers. We have a close relationship but we need to work even closer with them to make sure that our model of retail continues. We are also very pleased with our involvement in the Small Business Matters Coalition, where we are starting to see tangible results like the recent announcement of tax cuts for small-to medium-sized enterprises and we hope we can reverse our unenviable position of having the highest credit card fees in the world.

What do you like most about your job?
The challenges. Some issues come and go; others sit on our plates for years. We just won an issue that we started working on 15 years ago—it was on the ability to sell local wine in grocery stores across the province . It took 15 years, but we stayed focused and worked with every part of the industry. Sometimes you just have to find ways to bring the issue forward in a new way. In the end, we got the result we were looking for.

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