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Meet Canadian Grocer's 2021 Generation Next winners

No question, Canada’s grocery industry is bursting with talent. And for 11 years now, Canadian Grocer has been shining a light on up-and-coming talent with the Generation Next Awards. This year’s impressive Gen Next winners work in all areas of the industry in roles that range from supply chain and sustainability directors to store managers, marketing and innovation leaders and CEOs, too. What these 18 rising stars have in common is that they’re young (all are under age 40), they’re incredibly accomplished and they’re passionate about what they do. Let’s meet the 2021 Generation Next winners:

Sarah Au


Director of Marketing

The craft beer industry is not known for being diverse and inclusive. As a proudly gay woman born to immigrant parents, Sarah Au is changing all that.

Au helped develop a new IPA for Muskoka Brewery and marketed it to a neglected audience in the beer category. Named after the anthem of the LGBTQ community, Born This Way IPA devotes partial proceeds from sales to help fund anti-racism and LGBTQ corporate inclusivity training via the non-profit Get REAL. In 2021, Born This Way IPA raised more than $25,000.

Launched as a “small- batch program” prior to Pride Month in June 2020, the IPA has become “a core brand in our portfolio,” explains Au. “That’s great because the LGBTQ community is year-round.”

During the pandemic, Au also helped to keep Muskoka Brewery growing with the launch of two new brands, Tread Lightly and Muskoka Spirits Hard Sparkling Water, in categories Ontario craft breweries weren’t playing in.

In previous roles, Au worked on brands like Burt’s Bees and Brita, creating a campaign for the latter that provided 60,000 Kenyans with clean water. “Those are the campaigns I will remember years from now,” she says. “I want to keep striving for having that kind of impact.”

Eli Browne


Director of Corporate Sustainability

Even as child, Eli Browne was passionate about protecting wildlife from the perils of plastic. So, it’s fitting that she and her team spearheaded the elimination of plastic bags at all checkout counters in Sobeys and its associated banners. Not only did this initiative help eliminate 800 million single-use grocery bags from circulation annually, but it encouraged 85% of Sobeys shoppers to bring reusable bags or go without. “I think the fact we have such a high percentage [of customers] who don’t require single-use bag shows we are impacting customer behaviour,” she says.

Earlier this year, Browne announced Sobeys’ partnership with food rescue group Second Harvest, which enables the grocer and its banners to divert food waste and provide Canadians with more access to fresh food. A 12-week pilot of the program, which Browne helped implement in 16 stores, diverted more than 110,000 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. Since May 2021, Sobeys has donated more than one million meals to families in need.

In playing such a pivotal role in Sobeys’ commitment to sustainability, Browne says she is simply responding to what customers are asking for.

Laura Dobson


Omnichannel & New Revenue Streams Team Lead

During her 10 years at Unilever, Laura Dobson has steered the integration of SheaMoisture and Schmidt’s deodorants and soaps into Canadian retail after the company acquired both global brands. She describes this as “a career highlight.” The work was “end-to-end,” from strategy to launch, and on “purpose-led brands, which I am super passionate about,” says Dobson.

In her current role since March 2021, Dobson is credited for having raised the bar on Unilever’s e-commerce push, and leads the Healthy Working team in Canada, meeting monthly with her global counterparts to share mental health best practices. Dobson has also embraced her role as a mentor. “I get a lot of energy from developing people and helping them to do their best work,” she says.

Working in consumer packaged goods runs in the family for Dobson. “My dad spent his entire career in CPG, and initially I fought him tooth and nail about studying business,” says the former arts student, who eventually realized where her true passion was. Her brother also works in the industry, but, fortunately, in confectionery. “It means dinner table conversations are less stressful,” she jokes.



Marketing Planning Manager

Calgary Co-op’s private-label brand, Cal & Gary’s, launched with more than 800 products in 2020 and is flying off shelves at the Co-op’s 23 food stores. That’s owing “to the public awareness we generated for the label,” which, in the face of tough competition during lockdown, “exceeded all expectations,” says Melissa Edighoffer.

Edighoffer deserves a good amount of the credit—she has led the brand-building marketing efforts. Fun, smart and market-tailored, the award-winning launch campaign featured headlines like “Ready to Crack. Like your windshield” for Cal & Gary’s Organic Brown Eggs, a clever nod to Alberta’s brutal winters.

Born and raised in the province, Edighoffer says “it was super exciting to work on a campaign that resonated specifically with Calgarians.” She also makes sure to spotlight local growers and producers in the Co-op’s marketing, from in-store signage to promotions. Calgary Co-op has grown the number of local products it carries to 2,300, from about 1,200 just a few years ago.

“Their support of local is what attracted me to apply here in the first place,” says Edighoffer,
who joined the company in 2019 from clothing retailer Mark’s, another Calgary-headquartered company where she managed content and consumer marketing.

Kyle Findlay


District Manager

Never one to shy away from a challenge, Kyle Findlay opened his first store within his first three months as district manager, and his second store during a pandemic. For the latter, he hired staff and coordinated orientation, training, stocking shelves and merchandising, as well as the grand opening, all while complying with COVID-19 provincial health protocols.

An employee with Food Basics since 1998, Findlay has held a variety of positions, from department head to grocery specialist and even HR manager. As a result, he has a keen sense of the business from a variety of perspectives and has been lauded for his ability to identify issues and resolve conflicts. Since becoming district manager in 2019, he has become a true advocate for training and development, promoting numerous employees and developing a training program for assistant managers to further develop their skills.

“In my role overseeing multiple stores, I can make a difference in morale and in pushing my teams to do better,” he says. “I love being there for my managers in helping them achieve results—we hit our targets and, more importantly, our customers are happy.”




James Inglis credits his time working in the grocery industry in dozens of communities across British Columbia and Alberta with helping him “learn from some of the country’s best grocers.” Among those lessons, he says, is that “success occurs when your employees are highly engaged and driving for results. The better your people do, the better they look after the customer and, in turn, the better the business performs.”

This kind of thinking has worked well for Inglis, who has been president of Blind Bay Village Grocer in B.C. since 2018, winning the grocer numerous awards and a prominent place within the region for its many community initiatives.

“I’m also proud of how our store stepped up to help our community during COVID,” says Inglis, noting the store launched online and automated ordering and added new departments like fresh seafood. “I’m most passionate about helping people, whether it is helping customers in unique ways such as grocery delivery, or helping an employee achieve personal and professional goals. And I love how grocery stores are such a staple in the communities they serve; it gives us a chance to be difference makers in our towns and have a long-lasting impact.”




Almost every morning, Rehan Iqbal spends an hour or two walking around his store, catching up with staff and greeting customers. “That is my favourite part of the job,” he says. Those interactions are what attracted him to the grocery business when, at age 16, he got a part-time job in the hot foods department at his local Loblaws store.

After university, Iqbal completed Grad@Loblaw, the company’s 18-month management program, and was offered a position as assistant store manager at one of the grocer’s superstores. After managing a few stores, in 2019, at age 30, Loblaw awarded Iqbal with his own Your Independent Grocer franchise in Sudbury, Ont.

The focus on community has translated to business growth. Iqbal’s store has partnered with about a dozen local vendors and carries their products exclusively. “We can see on our Google Maps business profile that people drive 30 or 40 minutes for those products,” he says.

Iqbal’s store has collected 5,000 pounds of food in the past year for the Sudbury Food Bank and raised $5,000 for the Infant Food Bank. “I could never imagine my baby daughter going hungry,” he says. “We’ve just scratched the surface on the impact we can have in the community.”

Lee Jeyes


Head of Innovation, Blue Labs

A business disrupter through and through, Lee Jeyes is accustomed to pushing the boundaries to bring retail to the next level. In his new role, he is leading Walmart’s first-ever innovation accelerator and incubator, which is focused on testing and scaling radical innovations in retail.

In his previous roles at Walmart, Jeyes developed the Store Innovation team structure to advance the smart store strategy and was one of the founders in developing the online grocery business for Walmart Canada in 2015. “We created and launched five smart stores across the country and connected them so the technologies could work individually, as well as together in harmony,” he says, noting that his team built all the mobile apps used by store associates and implemented computer vision cameras and machine learning technology to detect out-of-stock items.

“If we can use technology to automate those boring, mundane tasks we can focus on the more important things,” he says. “What really motivates me is helping reinvent what future retail stores look like and how to serve customers better.”

Claudia Joanis


Vice-President, Ice Cream Category

After seven years at Agropur, Claudia Joanis became vice-president of the ice cream category this April, making her one of three Agropur vice- presidents under age 40, and the only woman.

The ice cream category has grown under her leadership, with net sales increasing by 7% between 2020 and 2021. “I thoroughly enjoy working in the grocery industry, and I love finding new ways to add value and grow with customers and connect with consumers. And I really appreciate working with products that fulfil an everyday need,” says Joanis. “Over the years, I have developed specific skills around managing and growing B2B partnerships, and I’m proud to say that I have been a key player in transforming Agropur into a major Canadian B2B player and a customer-centric organization.”

Joanis is also committed to mentoring, and has coached Agropur employees on a one-on-one basis. She is also a member of “LIFe (Inclusive Women’s Leadership), a company initiative to inspire and influence employees and management to enhance and accelerate the development of inclusive leadership.”



Director, Supply Chain Ontario

Almost every year since 2011 Marcin Krzyzanowski has been promoted, thanks to hard work, dedication, and his go-getter attitude.

He joined Maple Leaf Foods in its Canada Bread division with a master’s degree in labour relations, and a week into the job presented his boss with a career plan. “She still references it as the most realistic plan from a twentysomething she’s seen. I wasn’t looking to be CEO in three years,” he says with a laugh.

Krzyzanowski helped the company overhaul pay and bonus structures. And when Grupo Bimbo acquired and rebranded Canada Bread as Bimbo Canada in 2014, he was promoted to human resources manager. When an opportunity arose to manage logistics and distribution in Western Canada, he seized it. “I always see myself as someone who can contribute more,” he explains. A project he led cut annual transport travel by 40 roundtrips on the TransCanada highway.

A three-time President’s Award winner for being a high-performer, Krzyzanowski was named a Bimbo Canada director in 2021. That’s two years behind the aforementioned plan, but impressive given his ascent hasn’t been linear. His problem-solving skills are now being brought to bear on a high-priority function: supply chain.

Mathew Maiss


Store Manager

Matthew Maiss has been working at Longo’s since the tender age of 15, so it’s no surprise it feels like family. He also makes it his mission to ensure Longo’s “guests” feel the same way. “We have a culture at Longo’s where we treat our guests like family and nothing makes me happier than getting comments saying they feel well taken care of,” he says.

In fact, getting compliments from Longo’s patrons for his exemplary customer service and compassion is a regular occurrence. As a store manager at the Longo’s Bayview location in Thornhill, Ont., Maiss has also created a positive atmosphere where team members not only feel appreciated but are encouraged to cross-train and thrive in new opportunities.

While he admits the pandemic has been among the most challenging periods of his career so far, Maiss credits it for inspiring moments of great professional pride, too. When his elderly guests expressed fear in leaving their homes to get groceries, for example, he quickly took charge to offer phone orders with curbside pickup or delivery. “I was happy we were able to respond to the community when they needed us most and create a safe space.”



Marketing Manager, eCommerce & Digital

Six weeks into Erin McKeever’s job at Kruger Products, the pandemic hit and Canadians started emptying grocery shelves of products like bathroom tissue including Kruger’s Cashmere brand. McKeever led an initiative in partnership with Mercedes-Benz that saw more than 30,000 care packages delivered to frontline workers at 32 hospitals across the country. “They weren’t getting an opportunity to get the products they needed,” she explains.

The pandemic also dramatically accelerated online shopping, and with the professional poise she’s known for, McKeever helped get Kruger up to speed. She spearheaded the creation and management of online content and partnered with product development and manufacturing on products like a ready-to-ship case of Cashmere bathroom tissue for launch on Amazon. “We were on key retailer websites,” she says, “but we didn’t have our own e-commerce content, online media activity or e-commerce-specific products.”

McKeever cut her teeth at digital ad agencies and moved to the client side in 2014 at Nestlé Purina. She was its first hire to bring digital marketing skill sets in-house. “I love the client side,” she says. “You get to be integrated into the work at every stage of the discussion.”

Brianne Miller


Co-Founder and CEO

Brianne Miller’s interest in the food system began with her love of the oceans, and a realization of the impact industrial food production had on the ecosystems and endangered species she studied as a marine biologist. She launched Vancouver’s Nada Grocery five years ago to help tackle food and packaging waste within the supply chain. “We’re now on a mission to connect people to a regenerative food system, championing a community food system by linking buyers to suppliers and offering healthy, unpackaged products,” she says.

Nada Grocery has also become a certified B-Corporation and 1% for the Planet company (the latter group recently recognized Nada as its global business member changemaker of the year), donating 1% of all top-line revenues to grassroots environmental organizations tackling food insecurity, education and conservation initiatives.

Miller says surrounding herself with industry experts has been key to Nada’s success, which includes her team of approximately 50 employees, who, she says, “bring me so much joy! I am so lucky to be surrounded by passionate, smart and talented folks who care so much about their community and making local foods more accessible.

Ryan Nesbitt


Store Manager

As manager of Save-on-Foods’ only store in the Yukon, Ryan Nesbitt has supported many new team members transferring to his store throughout the pandemic, resulting in an almost 27% reduction in staff turnover.

Under his leadership, the store has also tailored its product offerings to better serve a growing South Asian population and, in doing so, improved sales by nearly 14% in 2020 over the prior year. “We felt it was important to fill that need not only to give us a competitive advantage, but to support our friends and neighbours,” he says.

Given that his store acts as a grocery hub for many outlying communities beyond Whitehorse, Nesbitt launched the hamper program in collaboration with the Yukon First Nation Education Directorate (YFNED) to bring food supplies to those in need over the holidays. Since the initial hamper order in 2019, the program has grown exponentially. “We deliver close to 10,000 boxes of food in more than 10 semi-trucks to 1,650 families in the span of a couple weeks,” says Nesbitt. “It is, by far, one of the most exhilarating and rewarding experiences of my career.”

Doug Palmer


Senior Finance Director, Canada & International

Doug Palmer has been with JM Smucker for 16 years. His move from the United States to Canada for what he thought would be a one-year contract, ended up changing this life. After progressive finance roles with the company, Palmer took over responsibility for supporting its Canadian and international businesses.

Palmer has supported the launch of three new brands into the Canadian market, as well as the integration of the Big Heart Pet Brands business into Smucker’s Canadian business. “I very much enjoy being able to provide the support to bring new products to market in the best way possible,” he says. “It’s unique in CPG that the work you do has the ability to be seen and experienced by your friends and family directly.”

Palmer also established a sales finance team, which he says continues to inspire him with its accomplishments. “I find it extremely rewarding to be able to recruit and build a high-performing team that has been integrated into the various functions of the business,” he says. “By embedding resources in key areas, we are able to bring financial insights and assist in making key decisions across the organization.”

Natacha Roy


Director, National Procurement, Grocery

Natacha Roy has been on all sides of Canada’s food industry, starting at the age of 22 when she was a transport dispatcher for the meat and produce warehouse of a national grocery chain. With myriad roles since then—from private-label merchandising and category management to regional sales and procurement—she has demonstrated her ability to lead, collaborate and think outside the box to challenge the status quo.

Roy joined Metro’s pharmacy division in 2010 as a banner development manager where she developed new concepts in health and wellness foods. She gleaned further industry perspective with roles in manufacturing where she was in charge of the Metro accounts for Quebec and Ontario. In her current job, Roy is managing and developing Metro’s purchasing program in Quebec in tandem with many national categories. Under her leadership, the number of local suppliers increased by 22% in fiscal 2020 from 2019, and sales rose by 10%.

“I’m really happy to have found this industry at the beginning of my career,” says Roy. “I’m constantly in touch with suppliers and banners with new innovations coming to market—what we’re doing is really dynamic.”



Category Sales Development Manager

Mandy Siu joined Maple Leaf Foods right out of university under its Leadership Track Graduate program, and after working at other major CPG companies, she returned to Maple Leaf three years ago and is now category sales development manager. “I love how grocery and CPG touch people’s lives, and take pride in working for products I believe in and that I can see my friends and family enjoying.”

Siu is also a committee member of Maple Leaf’s Multicultural Advocacy Network, which supports and celebrates cultural diversity. “I have been able to support the planning of powerful sessions that inspire meaningful discussion and action for Maple Leaf employees,” she says. “I’m a strong believer that everyone has something to give. By keeping an open mind and working together, we can make something better.”

That’s why teamwork is also key, says Siu. “When we work together, we bring in different experiences, perspectives, ideas. It’s this interaction and collaboration to problem solve and push for better that inspires me every day. My goal is to inspire others and to support the growth of my team members and empower them, just as my leaders have empowered me.”

Natasha Vandenhurk



“I joined Three Farmers because I saw an opportunity to bring great tasting, healthy foods to market in a more direct manner—from farmer to consumer,” says Natasha Vandenhurk, who has been CEO of Three Farmers since 2011 when the Saskatchewan-based healthy snack company launched.

Vandenhurk says the best part of her job is “the challenge of learning something new every single day, whether it be stretching myself to be a better leader and communicator, or learning about a new market and figuring out the keys to success to getting product on shelf in that new market.”

She’s most excited about the changes Three Farmers Foods has made in the past year, “specifically our new stock options program that we rolled out to everyone during our farm tours in August,” and says the company plans on expanding its annual farm tour. “I would love to get more people in the industry involved in coming out to our farms and seeing firsthand where our food comes from. I really believe that we’re making a positive impact in this world with the products we put out into the market.”

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