More of Canada's grocery leaders share their outlook for 2022
Canadian Grocer asks industry players to share their hopes and fears for the year ahead
Compiled and edited by David Brown and Kristin Laird
L to R: Digs Dorfman and Anthony Longo
These remain uncertain times in Canada, with hopes for an end to the pandemic offset by rising concerns of a new variant, while larger economic forces buffet the grocery sector and seem likely to continue in the weeks and months ahead.
With this in mind, Canadian Grocer reached out to a handful of grocery industry leaders (here's part one if you missed it) and asked them to share their outlook for the year ahead. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)
In terms of your business, what are you feeling most optimistic or hopeful about heading into the new year?
Longo's president and CEO Anthony Longo: We are optimistic about many things, even amidst recent developments with the new variant. We know that disruption has made us stronger and we can harness opportunities through this. One area we are particularly optimistic about is the growth of e-commerce and omnichannel behaviour that we service through Longo’s delivered by Grocery Gateway. As the first grocery delivery service, we were pioneers and today we are thrilled to see the organic uptake of Grocery Gateway with new and current guests. During the pandemic, we leaned into digital transformation to ensure the online shopping experience was seamless and convenient. We are seeing the rewards of that investment. We are also optimistic about the opportunity to raise the bar and continue innovating in meal solutions, curate our assortment and progress to meet the new era of consumers and their expectations. We are up for the challenge.
Digs Dorfman, chief executive officer, The Sweet Potato: Organic and local food have been consistently growing (no pun intended) in terms of percentage of overall food sales for the past few decades, but since COVID they're trending even stronger. We feel good about our position in the marketplace and the unique offering we bring to the table (okay... that time it was intended). Also, we'll be expanding this year, which is exciting! Plus, Ontario vaccine rates are some of the strongest anywhere, which means the chances of serious lockdowns in our future have diminished. There's also a lot of exciting new farming initiatives like vertical hydroponics, which could ultimately disrupt the existing supply chain in a very positive way. We're looking forward to exploring these new opportunities.
What are you most anxious or worried about?
Longo: The health and wellbeing of our team members and guests remain top of mind, but we know that we are doing all the right things to keep everyone safe. Longo's was the first to implement mandatory masks and it was a decision that we are very proud of because we know it made everyone feel safer while visiting our stores. Building trust among team members and guests is paramount to everything we do. We will continue to be leaders in this way.
Dorfman: With everything that's happened in the last 20 months or so, the future feels deeply uncertain. Inflation has caused prices to rise across the board in a way that's unprecedented in our entire time in business, and we've seen shortages unlike anything we've ever seen. Climate change is also increasingly becoming a real-world factor in our business and not just a theoretical problem and, if I'm being totally honest, I'm worried that it's going to get much worse way quicker than people are expecting. We really don't know what the future holds in terms of supply.
If you could have one wish to fix or change something in the industry, what would it be?
Longo: The industry has made unbelievable strides throughout the pandemic. I believe one of the many lessons we learned through the pandemic is we need to bring the supply side of our products back to Canada. Too many plants over the last 20-plus years have left Canada for either consolidation to U.S. plants or, in the case of many non-food products, to plants outside North America, which makes the supply chain extremely difficult to manage, especially in times like these.
Dorfman: Last year, when several of the major chains started taxing vendors to fund their online expansions, it was a sea change moment that went largely unnoticed by the general public. That type of monopolistic behaviour is dangerous, and can only result in less competition and thus higher prices and poorer quality for the consumer.