My Grocery Gig: Nature’s Emporium co-founder and CEO, Joe D'Addario

Executive discusses his career in food retail
Joe D'Addario
Joe D'Addario

Careers in grocery are as diverse as the products that line store shelves. From the frontlines to the c-suite, a job in food retail can bring about many opportunities. Canadian Grocer’s new series, My Grocery Gig, will profile people from across the industry about what they do and why they’re passionate about their profession. Have a pitch? Send it to digital editor Jillian Morgan. 

Job title: Co-founder and CEO of Nature’s Emporium 

Age: 58

Location(s): Six stores in the Greater Toronto Area, plus a warehouse distribution centre

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Toronto, not too far from our new location at Shops @ 1 York actually, and grew up in North York.

As a kid, what did you want to do or be when you grew up?

When I was a kid, I always wanted to grow up to be a doctor. I never made it to be a doctor, but I feel like I achieved a part of my dream, helping others to find their wellness journey path by offering the best products our industry has to offer.

READ: PHOTO GALLERY: Nature's Emporium opens new store in Oakville

Your LinkedIn page says you have a “master's degree from Hard Knox University.”  What are some of your biggest life lessons?   

Ha! Appreciate you taking notice of that. Life, I think, is the best teacher and learning by doing is a great way to pick-up new knowledge, insights and ideas.

Nature’s Emporium is celebrating 30 years this year and, as a business owner, I have learned a lot. The biggest life lesson I think is important to share and to keep in mind is that business is all about people – your team, your partners, your suppliers, your customers. Humans are what makes every business “tick.” If you take the time to get to know your people – what matters to them, what inspires them, what they don’t like – you can build a company culture that thrives on mutual respect and understanding. 

Another key lesson is resilience. The retail landscape, especially in the food industry, is always changing. We’ve seen market fluctuations, rapid trend shifts, shifting consumer desires. Through it all, the ability to adapt and pivot has been crucial. It's about staying true to your core values while also being flexible enough to meet the new demands and expectations of the market.

How did you get your start in the grocery business?

I worked at my father’s store for a long time and learned the proverbial ins and outs with some great hands-on experience.

What led you to found Nature's Emporium?

Nature’s Emporium found me, I like to think. I knew I wanted to create a one-stop shop for customers who are passionate about leading a healthy lifestyle. I wanted this one-stop shop to be a place in the community where customers could go to learn more about natural health and wellness; where they could go to get inspired, feel empowered, and get expert advice.

When we started Nature’s Emporium 30 years ago, we could barely get any organic produce! Fast-forward three decades and look at how the landscape of food and health and wellness has shifted! 

READ: PHOTO GALLERY: Nature's Emporium debuts in Toronto

What do you love most about the grocery business?

What I love most about the grocery business is its dynamic nature; it's a hub of daily human interaction and often serves as a cornerstone of the community. The grocery store – in our case, the health food market – is more than a place to buy food, it's a gathering spot, a place where people come not only to shop but to connect, share, learn and belong. Every day, we have the opportunity to touch lives in a meaningful way, whether it’s through offering quality products that nourish the body, giving personalized advice on health and wellness, or simply being a friendly face offering a smile.

I also love the immediacy and tangibility of the grocery business. You can see the results of your work on the shelves every day, in the baskets of customers, and in the satisfaction they express. There's a unique reward in knowing that we're providing essentials that people need to live and thrive… to eat well, and live better.

What's the most important thing you do now as CEO?

Spend time on “the floor” at our locations listening to customers, speaking with team members across all of our departments. Relationships and the people that Nature’s Emporium touches are important to me and the company. I always have a long list of daily to-dos, but I always make time to stay connected with the communities we serve and our team.

nature's emporium Dorval Crossing oakville
Nature's Emporium Dorval Crossing, Oakville

What's a common misconception about working in the industry?

Many might view the grocery field as a collection of basic roles – cashiers, stockers, the front-line team members who keep the aisles filled and the checkout lines moving. It’s often seen as a “pit stop” on the road to a different career, not as a destination with its own rewards and opportunities.

But the food retail world is far from just transactional grunt work. It’s a space brimming with potential for those who look beyond the surface!

Take technology and innovation; the sector is on the cutting edge, pioneering sophisticated logistics, seamless supply chain solutions and crafting personalized shopping experiences. There’s a wealth of roles for the tech-minded folk, from IT support to data analytics, not to mention the creative flair needed in digital marketing strategies.

READ: Nature’s Emporium continues expansion across Ontario

What's next in your career?  What do you still hope to accomplish?

We are in expansion mode right now so, my focus is on growing the Nature’s Emporium footprint – bringing the amazing experience and products we offer to more communities.

What advice do you have for young Canadians who are considering a career in the food retail industry?

Be curious! Always be eager to learn. The food retail industry is huge and ever-evolving, with continuous innovation in products, services, and technology. Keep up with trends, be it food trends, packaging trends, or e-commerce.

Don't be afraid to start with entry-level positions. Working in various roles, from cashier to stock, provides invaluable experience into the operational aspects of the business and helps build empathy and understanding of every function within a store.

I cannot stress enough how much people skills matter – in every industry. Develop people skills because food retail is a people business. Developing strong communication and customer service skills will serve you well. Learn how to listen, empathize, and solve problems, this is crucial, whether dealing with customers or managing a team.

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